"Tide is definitely one of our high-theft items," said Marsha Gilford, spokeswoman for Smith's Food & Drug in Utah.
And when it is stolen, the crime is often perpetrated by "organized retail theft" rings, she said. "We spend a lot of time and effort working with local law enforcement combatting the theft of products like Tide that can command a high price and are often easy to resell."
A story on the "grime wave" reported Monday in the electronic publication The Daily was widely picked up by other national news outlets. They reported that the orange, blue and yellow jugs have become a favorite target of "boosters," who find a ready market to sell the stuff for about half of what it sells for in stores.
"Our retailers are telling us that Tide has been a problem for the past year," said Read Hayes, who heads up the Loss Prevention Research Council, a group of about 70 retailers and manufacturers, including P&G and Kroger, which in Utah operates Smith's Food & Drug.
The market-leading detergent usually can command a premium price at the checkout counter, up to $20 for a big 150-ounce bottle. But sold under the table, in an alley or a back room, it can go for a mere $5 or $10.
Hayes said it's often sold at housing projects or low-income apartments, often by drug addicts. "They're converting the Tide to cash," he said.
Tide is valuable, quickly consumable and easily removable from store shelves, all traits that make it attractive to professional thieves who sometimes load up carts and walk out the door to waiting getaway cars.
In West St. Paul, Minn., a Walmart inventory revealed about $25,000 worth of Tide lost over little more than a year, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported in February. Police there charged a man with felony theft, saying he loaded carts with at least $6,339 worth of Tide over a month, walking out the door without paying.
P&G didn't want to say much about the trend when contacted this week. "We don't have any insight as to why this is happening, but it is certainly unfortunate," said spokeswoman Sarah Pasquinucci.
But Hayes said P&;G is "very actively engaged" with retailers to find ways to stem losses on Tide and other products.
At CVS stores in certain markets, the drugstore chain is hanging alarm devices on the handles of Tide bottles, said spokesman Mike DeAngelis. The alarms are similar to those attached to clothing in department stores.
Kroger applies "return to owner" labels to Tide bottles with a very sticky adhesive, so if the booty is recovered by police, they know where to return it, said spokesman Keith Dailey.
Tide's not the only product fancied by pro shoplifters. P&G's Gillette Fusion razor blades, Crest Whitestrips, Prilosec heartburn medicine and its Olay skin creams have all been the objects of five-fingered frenzy, authorities say.
Shoplifting losses to retailers amounted to more than $35 billion in 2010, up from $33.5 billion in 2009, said Joseph LaRocca of the National Retail Federation.
The Salt Lake Tribune contributed to this story