Black Market Avocados Flood Into New Zealand’s Sandwich and Sushi Shops

High prices and a short supply have led to an avocado crime wave in New Zealand.

CARTAGENA, COLOMBIA - 2012/04/29: Close-up of Avocados in the Getsemani area of Cartagena, Colombia. (Photo by Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images)
CARTAGENA, COLOMBIA - 2012/04/29: Close-up of Avocados in the Getsemani area of Cartagena, Colombia. (Photo by Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images)
CARTAGENA, COLOMBIA - 2012/04/29: Close-up of Avocados in the Getsemani area of Cartagena, Colombia. (Photo by Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Avocado theft is most likely on clear moonlit nights when the fruit’s market values are high. And high they are in New Zealand this year, where skyrocketing avocado prices combined with a low supply of the beloved guacamole ingredient are fueling a crime wave.

The thieves sneak into orchards at night and rake in large amounts of fruit out of trees -- as many as 350 at a time -- which they collect in blankets and haul away to sell to local fruit, sushi, and sandwich shops. Others simply hand pick the fruit, filling up the beds of their trucks. Since January, there have been about 40 such thefts, according to The Guardian. Some growers have responded by installing automatic lights and alarms.

Adding to the avocado demand, this year heavy rains in Western Australia interrupted the harvest, as wet avocados can carry fungus that rots the fruit. New Zealand’s avocado season last year was poor as well.

Avocado theft is most likely on clear moonlit nights when the fruit’s market values are high. And high they are in New Zealand this year, where skyrocketing avocado prices combined with a low supply of the beloved guacamole ingredient are fueling a crime wave.

The thieves sneak into orchards at night and rake in large amounts of fruit out of trees — as many as 350 at a time — which they collect in blankets and haul away to sell to local fruit, sushi, and sandwich shops. Others simply hand pick the fruit, filling up the beds of their trucks. Since January, there have been about 40 such thefts, according to The Guardian. Some growers have responded by installing automatic lights and alarms.

Adding to the avocado demand, this year heavy rains in Western Australia interrupted the harvest, as wet avocados can carry fungus that rots the fruit. New Zealand’s avocado season last year was poor as well.

Up until recently, New Zealand avocados have mostly been grown for export, but in 2015, about 96,000 New Zealand households got wise to the subtle mushy goodness and “good fats” that avocados offer. They now sell for between $2.80 and $4.20.

However, stolen avocados can be harmful, according to a local police sergeant Aaron Fraser. Many are not ripe and may have toxic chemicals on their skin from recent pesticide sprays.

“It’s an easy way to make a quick buck, but I don’t think we are dealing with a sophisticated or highly organized operation here,” New Zealand Avocado CEO Jen Scoular told The Guardian.

It’s not just the New Zealand market that has exploded in the past few years. Avocados have become ubiquitous in the United States, although more than 80 percent of those consumed in the U.S. are imported.

The thefts are likely to stop in the coming weeks when this year’s bumper crop floods the market and drives down prices, according to Scoular.

Photo credit: Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images

Megan Alpert is a fellow at Foreign Policy. Her previous bylines have included The Guardian, Guernica Daily, and Earth Island Journal. Twitter: @megan_alpert

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