And new avocado trees are harder than ever to buy

avocado from mexico
Credit: FotografiaBasica / Getty Images

Avocados are serious business here in North America. The fatty green fruit somehow manages to erode millennial wealth while enriching Mexican cartels; threatening to sink international trade deals; and serving as cover for international smuggling operations. But lest you think the obsession with avocado was only causing problems in this part of the world, news out of New Zealand shows how the high price of avocados has inspired a frenzy of shady activity around the globe.

It turns out the country has a problem when it comes to illicit avocado sales, and it’s making life difficult for legitimate orchard owners trying to do things by the book. Bands of avocado thieves are pilfering avocado crops by night, absconding with thousands of dollars worth of ill-gotten fruit before orchards have the chance to harvest a crop that reached a peak of NZ$7 per fruit (roughly $4.60 USD) earlier in 2018.

These illegal wares are then sold direct to consumers on social media, or else on a wholesale basis to retailers willing to look the other way if it means scoring the pricey green fruit on the cheap. In some extreme cases, these pernicious pickings have deprived New Zealand orchard owners of up to NZ$100,000 (about $65,900 USD) in lost revenue.

To make matters worse for amateur avocado enthusiasts and professional growers looking to replace their lost crops, there’s a significant backlog of orders for avocado saplings. With the southern hemisphere set for the return of spring and planting season, nurseries in areas like Hamilton, New Zealand, simply don’t have enough supply to keep up with demand. According to Stuff, Wairere Nursery has a waiting list 200-plus names deep for its offering of avocado trees. Nearby Plant Depot has been sold out of saplings since April, and doesn’t expect it will be able to sell any more until late September.

It would seem that until legitimate supply is able to (somehow) keep up with demand, we can probably expect more Kiwis to raid orchards. For now, orchard owners are beefing up security, installing fences and CCTV camera systems. At an organizational level, New Zealand Avocado has pushed to prosecute thieves while encouraging the public to question the authenticity of their avocados.

“People should be okay to ask a retailer, where did these avocados come from,” says New Zealand Avocado CEO Jen Scoular. But as you’d imagine, the price tag is still probably what consumers care about most.