In a story called “Suds for Drugs,” New York reports that an epidemic of Tide thefts is sweeping the nation and that the orange-bottled detergent can be traded for crack and other drugs. The magazine may have slightly overhyped the detergent-for-crack angle, though. Many of the Tide thieves may be addicts looking for quick ways to earn cash, but there are only one or two lines in the story about detergent-drug transfers. Some criminals do say that, instead of selling the stolen Tide to unscrupulous businesses for five bucks a pop, they trade 150-ounce containers, which retail at $19.99, for around $10′s worth of weed or crack cocaine. But drug houses aren’t the only outlet for stolen bottles, according to New York: barbershops and nail salons, which resell the detergent to corner stores and pawn shops, are also top customers.
The more fascinating question than what these thieves are buying with their bottle money is: Why Tide? It turns out there are pluses to stealing Tide, if steal something you must. It’s a criminal strategy that comes with low risks and high rewards, New York explains:
Theft convictions can come with a maximum fifteen-year prison sentence, but the penalty for shoplifting is often just a small fine, with no jail time. For the most active thieves, says Thompson, stolen Tide has in some ways become more lucrative than the drugs it’s traded for. “It’s the new dope,” he says. “You can get richer and have less chance of doing jail time.”
Tide’s not even that difficult to steal. Though bulky, it isn’t kept behind locked counters like more expensive items, such as iPods or cell phones. Many minimum-wage cashiers don’t think to keep an eye on the Tide or, rather than deal with the hassle and potential danger of a confrontation, might even turn a blind eye when they suspect someone is snatching up detergent.
Businesses have a strong incentive to buy the stuff under the table, too. While a shop selling legally-sourced Tide for $19.99 may make a $2 profit per bottle, purchasing that same detergent for $5 from a shady salesman translates into a $15 profit, New York reports. Plus, there’s an ever-needy stream of customers who truly believe that Tide knows fabrics best.
As for the makers of Tide, Procter & Gamble, they don’t seem overly concerned—and might even be a bit flattered. As a marketing representative told New York, “It’s unfortunate that people are stealing Tide, and I don’t think it’s appropriate at all, but the one thing it reminds me of is that the value of the brand has stayed consistent.”
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