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Olive oil most stolen item in many Spanish supermarkets as gangs target 'liquid gold'

Olive oil is now the most stolen product in supermarkets in Spanish regions covering about half the country, according to new figures.

It comes as prices surge after a scorching drought in the south last year hit the olive harvest.

Organised criminal gangs are stealing the oil, dubbed 'liquid gold', to then resell it, according to Ruben Navarro, the head of the Tu Super supermarket chain, which operates 30 stores in Spain's Andalucia region.

"Olive oil has become an ideal product for them to steal," he said.

It is the second most stolen item in all of Spain's supermarkets, just behind spirits. Iberico ham was in third place on the survey theft list.

A litre of high-quality extra virgin oil which cost less than €5 (£4) four years ago, is now as much as €14 (£12).

Spain is the biggest producer of olive oil and families typically buy it in bulk for cooking.

Supermarkets have been chaining large five-litre bottles of olive oil together and padlocking them to shelves to prevent theft.

And in some stores, one-litre bottles are fitted with security tags that have to be removed by staff.

But Jose Izquierdo, a sales chief for supermarket chain Eroski, said thieves were using magnetic devices to break the tags.

Olive oil is now the most stolen item in supermarkets in Aragon, Andalusia, Castilla-La Mancha, Catalonia, Valencia, Madrid, the Balearic Islands and Extremadura, according to security company STC, which carried out the survey of stores.

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STC's marketing director Alejandro Alegre said it was unusual to see an essential food item so high up the theft list.

He told the Financial Times: "Olive oil is the only one that could be considered a staple, the others are iberico ham, cured cheeses, razor blades and alcohol."

Olive growers and companies which press olives into oil have also been the victims of robberies, with thieves stealing tens of thousands of litres of oil, the paper reported.