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Why are JHB supermarkets locking up baby formula?

Grocery store managers have told EWN that theft of infant formula is an ongoing problem.

A screengrab of a Facebook post about a Johannesburg store keeping its baby formula under lock and key.

JOHANNESBURG - Grocery store managers from across Johannesburg have told Eyewitness News that the theft of infant formula at their shops is an ongoing issue and has been for years.

Earlier this week, a post on Facebook about how one store in Melville was forced to lock up its baby formula to prevent theft, sparked widespread and heated reaction.

Eyewitness News spoke to 15 store managers from Pick n Pay, Spar and Shoprite outlets, who say they either keep their stock under lock and key, place it near cigarette counters, where it can be monitored, or put tags on the merchandise, to prevent shoplifting.

Grocery store managers say the problem of infant formula theft is nothing new.

Some say it dates back to as long as five years ago.

"People used to go to the clinics for the infant formulas. Now, the government has stopped that, and ever since, the theft of that formala escalated tremendously."

One manager says at his store, only large cans of formula are locked away from customers.

"When we bought the store, we did a complete re-layout where the baby milks and formulas are right in front next to the cashiers. We find that this helps."

Several managers say shoplifters come in groups and try to distract staff while they steal the products.

But another grocery store manager has told EWN it's unlikely that mothers themselves are stealing the formula, and believes syndicates may be at work.

"Because it's a high-value product. If they can get one, they can make R50 or R100 easily."

Police say that can't comment on whether a syndicate may be operating in the city unless an official case has been opened.

Meanwhile, the Gauteng Social Development Department has described the ongoing theft of baby milk formula from grocery stores as 'unfortunate', but it says support is available to parents who may be struggling to feed their young children.

The department says it is currently paying out around 16 million social grants every month, which are mostly directed towards child support.

It also has a programme called 'Welfare to Work' which assists young single mothers.

The department's Mbangwa Xaba says grants are not meant to cover a family's entire cost of living.

"It was to stand between people and certain poverties, starvation and hunger. It may not address all the needs, but it does keep hunger at the door."

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