While it’s unlikely criminal cartels have turned their attention to fresh produce production, avocado growers in New Zealand’s North Island are reporting an increase in fruit theft from their orchards.
According to the Guardian, there have been close to 40 large-scale thefts reported since the start of the year, with up to 350 pieces of fruit lifted at a time.
New Zealand Avocado chief executive Jen Scoular said the trend was concerning but unlikely to have a significant impact on overall sales programmes or the industry’s global reputation for selling high quality offerings.
“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,” Scoular told the Guardian. “This stolen fruit will only have made it to the local markets, it would never reach our export markets.”
The rising number of thefts are likely being driven by high avocado prices in the New Zealand market, with consumers currently paying up to NZ$5 a piece for the fruit, following a relatively small domestic crop over the 2015/16.
Scoular anticipates prices will drop over the coming months as new season fruit becomes available, in the process alleviating the temptation for thieves.
There is little doubt demand for avocados is rising in New Zealand. Upon announcing the industry’s end-of-season results for 2015/16, Scoular revealed record-breaking domestic sales of NZ$41m.
"Five years ago the New Zealand market achieved between NZ$15m and NZ$20m annually, without ever getting much above that,” Scoular explained. “This year’s return of NZ$41m is 25 per cent above last year’s return of NZ$31.8m and shows year on year growth of 17 percent since 2011.”
The combined value from export and domestic sales over 2015/16 was NZ$134m, almost matching the NZ$135m posted from the 2014/15 season, despite a much lower crop.
The industry sold 4.2m trays in 2014/15, down on the 7m trays marketed the year before. Of the 4.2m trays, 2.6m trays were exported, 1.2m trays were sold as fresh in New Zealand and 380,000 trays were processed into avocado oil and other products.