Olive oil has become the most stolen product in supermarkets across Spain, with organised criminal gangs targeting the “liquid gold” to resell on the hidden market, according to new figures.

Olive oil is now the most shoplifted product in regions that account for 70% of the country’s population, the Financial Times reports.

Supermarkets have begun chaining together large five-litre bottles of olive oil and padlocking them to shelves to prevent theft, while other stores are fitting the bottles with security tags that have to be removed by staff.

Spain is the world’s largest producer of olive oil, but Europe has almost run out of local supplies after extreme weather damaged the harvests for a second year. Global production is expected to fall to 2.4m tonnes, according to the International Olive Council, less than last year’s harvest and well short of global demand of about 3m tonnes.

With shortages happening across the Mediterranean, similar thefts of olive oil are occurring in Greece.

In Spain, prices have more than quadrupled in the past four years. Shoppers who paid less than €5 for a litre of high-quality extra virgin oil four years ago are now seeing prices climb as high as €14.

Alejandro Alegre, marketing director at STC, a security company that carried out the survey of supermarkets, told the FT that these thefts were not driven by hunger, but by organised gangs seeking to make a profit out of scarcity.

In December, police in Spain and Italy arrested 11 people and seized more than 5,000 litres of adulterated olive oil after breaking up an international gang that allegedly sought to profit by passing off cheap oils as more expensive equivalents.

Alegre said it was unusual for an essential food item like olive oil to rank so high up the theft list. “Olive oil is the only one that could be considered a staple. The others are ibérico ham, cured cheeses, razor blades and alcohol.”

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Olive growers and companies that press olives into oil have also been targeted for their oil, with thieves stealing tens of thousands of litres of products.