Police reports estimate as many as 14,000 avocados have been stolen from farms since January
A thriving demand for the soft green fruit around the world has seen an avocado crime wave spread across New Zealand’s North Island. Since January, there have been nearly 40 large-scale robberies of up to 350 avocados at a time taken from farms, with more thefts believed to have gone unreported.
Avocados have become a staple of the Kiwi foodie scene, with one lobby group for the fruit claiming that the number of households buying avocados increased by an extra 95,000 in 2015. A poor growing season last year has seen a massive increase in demand, with avocados selling for between $4 and $6 (€2.50 to €3.75) per unit.
With local growers primarily producing for the more lucrative export market, the surge in interest and demand has created a black market supply.
New Zealand’s police force says that the thefts typically take place during the middle of the night, with fruit gathered either by hand or ‘raked’ from trees and gathered in sheets. From there, the avocados are quickly moved to stalls set up on the side of the road, to groceries or to sushi, fruit, and sandwich shops in Auckland.
Sergeant Aaron Fraser of Waihi warned that the current spree of thefts carries some risks to consumers.
“They are unripe, some have been sprayed recently and they may still carry toxins on the skin. But with the prices so high at the moment, the potential for profit is a strong inducement for certain individuals,” he said.
The CEO of New Zealand Avocado, Jen Scoular, assured the public that the current growing season has proven to be a bumper one for farmers, and with newly harvested fruit entering the market in the coming weeks, she expects the street value of black market avocados to plummet.
“It’s an easy way to make a quick buck, but I don’t think we are dealing with a sophisticated or highly organised operation here, more opportunistic,” she told The Guardian.