DESPERATE food thieves are fuelling a rise in shoplifting, it is claimed.

At least one crime a day was reported in Brighton and Hove’s major supermarkets in 2012.

And as police report a rise in stealing, security experts say hunger is behind many crimes.

There were more crimes reported in the city’s nine biggest supermarkets in the first 11 months of last year than in all of 2011.

Asda’s store in Brighton Marina was the most targeted of the city’s supermarkets, with 71 reports of theft, fraud and forgery – including twice as many recorded thefts as in 2011.

There were 35 thefts in Waitrose in Western Road and 24 in Sainsbury’s in Lewes Road.

While Morrisons in St James’ Street, Iceland in London Road and Tesco in Church Road saw thefts drop, it is understood crimes in smaller stores, such as Tesco Express or Sainsbury’s Local, are on the rise.

Lisa Perretta, of the city’s Business Crime Reduction Partnership, said: “Supermarkets are definitely getting hit for food items where people cannot afford them – sandwiches, bags of sweets, a pie. It is desperation.”

In November, food charity FareShare Brighton reported it is handing out five times as much as two thirds of a ton of food every day.

The charity said the “working poor” are joining the homeless in queuing for handouts.

However, some food is stolen for profit. Earlier this year crimes were reported where whole displays of meat were being stolen in “bulk thefts”.

But security guards are reporting people stealing individual food items have often not been in trouble before.

Ms Perretta said self-service tills are used in some thefts. A favourite tactic is to enter expensive fruit or vegetables into the tills as items which are cheaper by weight.

Brighton and Hove Community Safety Forum was told that in October stealing reached its highest level since 2007.

The main theft problem remains pickpocketing of phones, wallets or bags, which was up 39 per cent on the year before.

Supermarkets say they are aware of the issue of increased shoplifting.

A Morrisons spokesman said the store used CCTV, in-store detectives, security guards and tagging of items.

He said: “We work hard to identify crime trends that impact our business.

“When the economy is depressed, we have to ensure we focus extra attention on the controls, processes and people that help ensure we prevent crime.”

A Waitrose spokesman said: “We have been able to report these incidents because of the measures we have in place to prevent theft, such as working with the police, employing a full time security guard and having CCTV.”