published Saturday, November 5th, 2011

Sandwich arrest stirs debate over eating in stores

Two-year-old Zofia Leszczynski, plays with her mother, Nicole Leszczynski, as her father Marcin Leszczynski watches in their apartment in Honolulu. The Leszczynskis were arrested last week after eating a $5 sandwich at Safeway and forgetting to pay for it with the rest of their groceries. Nicole Leszczynski, who is 30-weeks-pregnant had her daughter taken away by Child Welfare Services.
Two-year-old Zofia Leszczynski, plays with her mother, Nicole Leszczynski, as her father Marcin Leszczynski watches in their apartment in Honolulu. The Leszczynskis were arrested last week after eating a $5 sandwich at Safeway and forgetting to pay for it with the rest of their groceries. Nicole Leszczynski, who is 30-weeks-pregnant had her daughter taken away by Child Welfare Services.
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Is it okay to eat food in the supermarket that you intend to pay for?

By JENNIFER SINCO KELLEHER

Associated Press

HONOLULU — It happens daily in supermarket and convenience stores nationwide — digging into a bag of chips while waiting in line, sampling a couple of grapes in the produce section, opening a bottle of milk to appease a crying child.

The highly-publicized story of a pregnant Honolulu mom who was arrested last week with her husband after she ate a sandwich in a Safeway store and forgot to pay, leading to the couple’s 2-year-old daughter being taken away by Child Welfare Services, has sparked a national debate on the issue.

It also raised the question: Is it OK to consume food and beverages in the store before paying?

The woman in Hawaii who ate the sandwich has no problem with it.

“I didn’t know it was such a taboo thing,” said Nicole Leszczynski who was charged with fourth-degree theft, a petty misdemeanor, along with her husband, Marcin. The charges have since been dropped by Safeway. “Where I grew up in a small town it’s not seen as stealing for sure.”

Others are not so sure.

The story generated a robust debate on Facebook and Yahoo in comments following stories on the theft. Some argued that it’s wrong to eat what you haven’t paid for, and that police did the proper thing in arresting them. Others said eating while shopping has become a perfectly acceptable practice. Many denounced the arrest as a heavy-handed response.

At the Safeway where the Leszczynskis were arrested, Linda Mercado and her friend Christine Lutley didn’t get too far from the exit Wednesday before they began digging into their food purchases. Mercado polished off a package of sushi as she discussed her views on the issue.

“Pay before you eat,” the 66-year-old Mercado said. “It’s bad manners.”

However, Mercado acknowledged drinking beverages in the past while waiting in line.

“I don’t walk around the store drinking it,” she explained. “By the time I’m done shopping I’m thirsty.”

Shoppers Gerard and Ruth Viggayan said they consider eating before paying to be stealing.

“If you want to eat it, you have to purchase it,” the 34-year-old Gerard said. “It’s not like Costco where you get free samples.”

His wife was craving a bag of potato chips, but she said she would wait until they got to the car to open it. “If it looks good, we pay for it,” Ruth, 33, said, “and then eat.”

Wahiawa resident Jadene Espinueva, 34, has consumed cookies, grapes and bottled water before paying. “Just as long as you’re going to pay for it and you’ve got the money, why not?” she said. “If I’m hungry or thirsty, yeah, I’m guilty of it. I don’t see what’s the big deal.”

Eating before checking out has clearly become part of supermarket culture. From supermarkets to Costco handing out food samples in aisles, shoppers associate stores with being an acceptable place to munch, said Dana Alden, a marketing professor at the University of Hawaii’s business school and an expert in consumer psychology and branding.

Alden said it wouldn’t be prudent customer relations for stores to crack down. He likened the acceptance of eating before paying to dropping a jar of peanut butter, but still not being forced to pay for it.

Consumer behavior expert Debbie MacInnis, a marketing professor at the University of Southern California, said a trip to the grocery store is a familiar routine, and can be seen as a place where it’s acceptable to eat.

“That creates a certain sense of it’s OK for me to do that because I’m hungry and I have every intention of paying for it,” she said. “From a psychology standpoint, it’s mine even though the formal transaction hasn’t transpired.”

As for the 28-year-old Leszczynski, the former Air Force staff sergeant who is 30 weeks pregnant was feeling faint and famished after a long walk to the Safeway near downtown Honolulu and decided to eat a chicken salad sandwich while shopping and saved the wrapper to have it scanned at the register. But she and her husband forgot to pay for the sandwiches as they checked out with about $50 worth of groceries.

When confronted by security, they offered to pay, but Honolulu police were called and the couple were arrested and booked. Their daughter Zofia was taken away. Leszczynski said she was embarrassed and horrified.

They posted $50 bail each and were reunited with their daughter after an 18-hour separation.

Honolulu police said it was routine procedure to call Child Welfare Services if a child is present when both parents are arrested.

Safeway called Leszczynski on Tuesday and apologized for what she went through. The company also informed police the same day that it wouldn’t press charges.

Safeway said management followed routine shoplifting procedure by contacting police, but the company regrets not foreseeing that doing so would cause a child to be separated from her parents.

Safeway said it has no policy that prohibits consumption of merchandise in the stores, “but customers are expected to be able to identify and pay for the consumed merchandise before leaving.”

Foodland Super Market Ltd., Hawaii’s largest locally owned grocer, prefers customers pay for items before consuming them to avoid confusion or appearance of theft, spokeswoman Sheryl Toda said.

“However, we do understand that emergencies occur where a child or individual needs to consume a product immediately,” she said. “In those instances, we expect that wrappers or containers will be saved and presented to the cashier for payment before the customer leaves the store.”

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memphisexile said...

It is theft if you eat it before you pay for it. Control yourselves people. You can wait to stick your fat mitts down in that bag of chips after you pay for them. I like the one comment where the guy says it is not a big deal. I happen to think that it is a big deal that apparently people have such an utter lack of self control they cannot stop themselves from eating cookies the moment they see them. And we wonder why everyone in this country is obese....

November 5, 2011 at 12:09 p.m.
LibDem said...

"But she and her husband forgot to pay for the sandwiches...".

Doesn't that sort of put the wrapper on it?

November 5, 2011 at 12:29 p.m.
hmgreen said...

@memphisexile you are a jerk!!! Now you are saying that if you eat in the store you are FAT? What an idiot. The woman is 30 weeks PREGNANT!!! She was feeling faint and felt that she needed something to eat. My God. I am pregnant and if my sugar drops too low I pass out so if I am feeling that way you bet I am going to dip my fingers into a bag of whatever!!! As a matter of fact I HAVE recently eaten in a store. The only difference is that because I am pregnant my mind is not quite as sharp as it normally is and I knew I would forget so my husband went to the front and paid and got a sticker marked 'paid'. Some times mistakes happen. She simply forgot, but do you think the child will forget how scary it was to be separated from her parents for any amount of time? They offered to pay for the sandwiches. The store went way overboard in my humble opinion.

November 5, 2011 at 4:14 p.m.
macropetala8 said...

If the pregnant woman felt faint couldn't her husband have just taken the items to be eaten immediately up to the cashier, paid for them, kept the receipts to show if stopped on the way, then gobble up the food? Pregnancy is no excuse for getting away with theft. If I feel I can't wait while shopping, I interrupt my shopping by paying for the item, then consuming it as I finish up with my shopping.

And that I forgot to pay for it doesn't fly either. That lame excuse came up only after the fact. After they were confronted.

November 5, 2011 at 4:35 p.m.
lilmisandy said...

I dont see what the problem is because you sit down @ restaurants and eat before paying the tab.

November 5, 2011 at 6:10 p.m.
rolando said...

Ever been in a WallysWorld, macro, and spent less than 5 minutes in line waiting to pay for something? If so, that is highly unusual. Ten to fifteen is more like it.

You wait 5-10 minutes for a high-sugar coke when you blood sugar is below 60 and dropping and you could easily pass out. And it comes on before you notice...low blood sugar leads causes confusion...heavy confusion.

All you have to do -- in any store worth visiting -- is check out with the empty can/package/wrapper/etc in your cart.

Anyone who buys grapes without eating one first is asking for a bunch of sour grapes. If they are ripe, I buy the bag I sampled. Produce managers learn quickly to sample their own product if they want to sell it.

November 5, 2011 at 7:23 p.m.
sandstorm66 said...

You see it all the time at the Walmart or Bi-Lo people either with or without their kids and or alone and they will go by the deli and get food and they start eating when they get clear of the deli, and you see them putting their empty containers on the shelves hoping someone didn't see them. They eat for free and then deny they do it when you question them, stealing is stealing, pay for it or don't get it!!!! It costs everyone more when people shoplift and thats what it is!!!!!

November 5, 2011 at 8:21 p.m.

Walk through a grocery store and you will find empty food containers and wrappers on the shelves. Do you think the food just evaporated? People have been stealing like this for years. "They forgot to pay for it", What did you think they were going to say. Prosecute!

November 6, 2011 at 8:36 a.m.
rolando said...

You are talking about theft, sandstorm, and I totally agree. A local BiLo just installed a videocam system watching the baby formula section. Evidently it worked.


You too are talking about theft, Steamer. And theft should be prosecuted whether it occurs during an Occupier riot or a single act of shoplifting. It is not the eating that is the problem, it is hiding the evidence and not paying for the product that constitutes theft.

November 6, 2011 at 9:14 a.m.
LibDem said...

Of course if you're feeling faint and hungry, you should rush into a store and start eating. Planning ahead is sooo last century.

November 6, 2011 at 9:38 a.m.
fpsub said...

I've eaten and have definitely given my children things to eat at supermarkets before I've paid for them. I've never eaten anything that had to be weighed though, because I guess I felt like I would be stealing the unweighed portion. I never considered it to be a big deal. And by the way, I don't think that anyone would consider me to be obese.

November 8, 2011 at 12:47 p.m.
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