By Mike Pomranz
Updated February 23, 2018
Credit: © Westend61/Getty Images

Everyone loves avocados, and in New Zealand, that has become a big problem, resulting in an epidemic of avocado thefts and a potentially hazardous black market.

According to the trade group New Zealand Avocado, in 2015, interest in avocados on the tiny islands exploded, with 96,000 additional households buying the green fruit, a big uptick for a country with a population of under 4.5 million people. Though New Zealand does grow avocados, the nation ranks a paltry 28th in production globally, according to data from the USDA. Those factors, coupled with a poor season last year, have left growers unable to keep up with demand, driving prices up between $3 and $4 per avocado.

The result: New Zealand has seen about 40 large-scale thefts from avocado orchards, with thieves pilfering as many as 350 at a time, according to the Guardian. Beyond the obvious loss to producers, police sergeant Aaron Fraser from Waihi also said these black market avocados, which find their way to local roadside stalls, grocery stores and small restaurants, can carry other risks as well. “They are unripe, some have been sprayed recently and they may still carry toxins on the skin,” said Fraser. “But with the prices so high at the moment, the potential for profit is a strong inducement for certain individuals.”

However, New Zealand Avocado CEO Jen Scoular says relief is in sight. Not only are farmers increasing security around their crops, avocado harvest season is almost upon the country, meaning plenty of avocados should enter the market soon, driving prices down and lowering the incentive for theft. “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 was quoted as saying.

In the meantime, New Zealanders may want to keep their avocados under lock and key. Just to be safe.