We’re Number 1….in Hijacked Product Shipments

Trucks transporting food products have become a favorite target of criminals, a situation unlikely to change unless food companies begin sharing information and collaborating on defense strategies

If you’re going to steal something, why not steal something that’s worth a lot of money, right? That’s conventional wisdom, and when it comes to trucks loaded with finished goods, convention used to be correct. Electronics, pharmaceuticals and tobacco products had the dubious distinction of being the three most popular targets for thieves, but no more. Food products have topped the list for four consecutive years, with last year’s food thefts exceeding the combined total of the former Top 3. It’s a trend unlikely to change unless food companies start working together to make their shipments less inviting targets, security specialists at the 5th Annual Food Defense Strategy Exchange agreed.

The popularity of food shipments is increasing partly because of “independent food brokers” who readily pay 70 to 80 cents on the wholesale dollar value of packaged foods, according to George Hughes, a senior advisor to the FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigations. After inspecting a wide spectrum of food and beverage plants for three years and assessing their security vulnerabilities, Hughes concluded food manufacturing operations are very secure. “But once you get to that loading dock, all bets are off,” he told attendees at last week’s Chicago conference, which was sponsored by Tyco Integrated Security.

In contrast to food, information-sharing in the pharmaceutical industry has helped clamp down on both the number of incidents and the value of stolen shipments. In 2009, 47 trailers with an average value of $4.2 million worth of drug products were stolen, and only about a quarter were recovered. Last year, there were only 23 incidents, and the average value was $228,000. More than half of the stolen cargo was recovered, statistics from the Pharmaceutical Cargo Security Coalition indicate.

Total truck-theft losses for pharmaceuticals last year were less than the average high-jacked truck’s value 10 years ago, security consultant J. Christopher Golden of Keystone Business Group said. Industry collaboration and information-sharing were critical in reversing the trend and making pharmaceuticals a less-inviting target. Best practices were developed, such as requiring drivers picking up a trailer to arrive with a full tank of gas and avoiding shipments on weekends and holidays that require layovers in transit. Theft rings prefer the course of least resistance, and food shipments are currently the most attractive target, Golden suggested.

Deceptive pick-ups are on the rise, so requiring drivers to show identification is another best practice. Personnel training in procedures & protocols also plays a security role. But high driver turnover rates require continuous training, says Arthur Oates, security director for Sysco Foodservice. A main source of competition for drivers comes from the oil exploration sites in North Dakota and elsewhere.

According to Freightwatch International, a record number 951 truck cargoes were stolen in 2013. Food and beverage thefts account for about one in five incidents, and the average loss is pegged at $76,147. Because self-insured companies typically do not report thefts, the actual incident rate is believed to be considerably higher.