Someone is stealing avocados in New Zealand. Not just picking a handful to make guacamole for a picnic, but driving up to orchards in the dark of night, using rakes to sweep hundreds from trees, collecting them in blankets and driving off to sell them illegally at road stands, grocery stores and small restaurants in Auckland, according to police.
The problem appears to be one of surging demand and short supply, avocado industry officials say. Traditionally, the soft green fruit have been grown largely for export, but local consumers have been rapidly acquiring a taste for them — just as heavy rainfall in neighbouring Australia badly damaged last year’s harvest. As a result, the price has more than tripled, reaching as high as $NZ6 per avocado ($5.70 in Australian dollars) and fuelling a spate of stealth robberies by enterprising thieves.
“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,” Jen Scoular, chief executive officer of New Zealand’s avocado association, was quoted as saying in the Guardian on Wednesday. Officials said there have been dozens of thefts. In the most recent incident, police said, midnight bandits liberated 350 avocados from an orchard in the Bay of Plenty area on the country’s north island.
Police warned that anyone handling or eating the purloined pears may be facing a health risk, because those that have been recently sprayed with pesticides could carry toxins on their skins. No violence or confrontations have been reported in connection with the crime wave, but Scoular said many growers are installing automatic light and alarm systems to protect their lucrative crops.