Last month in the Pearl City community on Oahu, Safeway customer Arlene Sua watched as a man grabbed eight cases of Spam and head for the door. She thought “ ‘OK, this isn’t real. No, he’s not going to take it, no, no,” she told KHON-TV.

But it was real. The man took off with the Spam and disappeared.

Elsewhere on the island about the same time, three women loaded up shopping carts at a Long’s drugstore with 18 cases of — you guessed it — Spam. They made a rush for the exit. Fortunately, an alert customer, Kurt Fevella, saw the attempted heist in progress and stationed himself at the door on Spam patrol. They shoved the carts toward at him and took off, Fevella told KITV4.

A shop at a downtown mall wasn’t so lucky. The Honolulu Police Department is now offering a $1,000 reward for a man (and an apparent accomplice) who entered a store on Oct. 3, grabbed a case of Spam and punched a security guard who attempted to stop him.

These Spam snatchers are not hungry people desperate for Spam, said Tina Yamaki, president of the Retail Merchants of Hawaii. They are most likely part of a Spam black market that’s taking off in a state where the demand for Spam knows no bounds.

“It’s a staple,” Yamaki said.

The thefts have proliferated to the point that some businesses are putting Spam in plastic cases under lock and key, she said. To buy a can of Spam, you have to ask a sales person to retrieve it.

Yamaki thinks Spam has become a form of currency, particularly for drug addicts in need of quick cash. The thieves work in teams, one to distract onlookers, the others to “run out with Spam.”

Mainlanders Americans often ask of the meat: how flavorful is a mixture of pork with ham, salt, water, potato starch, sugar and sodium nitrite?

But in Hawaii, they eat “Spam fried rice,” or “Spam and eggs” or a Korean spam stew called budae jjigae and especially Spam Musubi, a sushi-like snack of cooked rice, Spam and often teriyaki sauce all wrapped in seaweed. (Try it in Hawaii, Anthony Bourdain once advised. “They love it,” he said. “They’ll make you love it.”)

Hawaii residents consume more spam per capita than any other state, about five million pounds a year, “six cans for every man, woman and child,” as National Geographic once noted, commenting that “a 12-ounce can is supposed to contain six servings.” Hawaiians celebrate Spam with an annual “Spam Jam” in Waikiki.

Yamaki attributes the thefts to a state law enacted last year that changed the definition of a felony from a theft worth at least $350 or to one worth at least $750. So a thief could make off with about 300 cans before risking a felony charge. “They steal right under” that $750 cutoff, Yamaki said.