Smash and Grab: Why New Zealand Is Being Hit By an Avocado Crime Spree

August 15, 2018, 1:11 PM UTC

For years, thieves throughout New Zealand have crept through avocado orchards with near impunity, selling their stolen goods to roadside fruit stands and unscrupulous artisanal toast dealers.

Just this April, an Auckland man reported a mobility scooter-enabled robbery.

Another grower has filed police reports for over $68,000 worth of fruit stolen from his orchard, the New Zealand Herald reports.

The reason?

High demand has made obtaining the fruit by legal means prohibitively expensive, according to The New York Times.

Most of New Zealand’s avocado growers are geared toward export, which netted the country $71.7 million in exports, compared to $30.7 million in domestic sales, according to trade group New Zealand Avocado. Imports are limited by the country’s strict bioprotection rules. So local avocado prices are beset by volatile swings depending on global demand and local production. Recently they’ve been trending up, with the per-fruit cost reaching $5.11 per fruit last year.

Growing demand abroad and in New Zealand have driven farmers there to convert over 1,000 hectares of dairy and ranchland into avocado orchards and existing growers have re-invested in improving their orchards.

(In the U.S., avocados are a $2 billion business, subject to a complex trade agreement with Mexico, according to Gastropod, and prices are at the whim of several factors, from American immigration rules to Mexican cartel extortion.)

Now New Zealand law enforcement is attempting to crack down on the avocado crime spree. Two young Kiwis, for instance, face burglary charges for an avocado smash and grab. And last year New Zealand police officers began patrolling fruit shops, forcing the black market for avocados onto not-so-dark web sites such as Facebook.

Avocados are a complex commodity, indeed. The second-worst part about that $68,000 theft, according to the owner? The fruit wasn’t even ripe yet.