Avocado Black Market Springs Up in New Zealand Amid Shortages

Avocado / Minden Pictures via AP

An avocado black market has emerged in New Zealand as thefts of the fruit have spiked this year amid shortages.

Since the beginning of 2016, New Zealand has seen roughly 40 large-scale thefts from New Zealand avocado orchards, though officials suspect that number is higher, the Guardian reported Wednesday.

The latest incident involved bandits who stole 350 avocados from a single orchard under the cover of night, according to police.

Heavy rainfall in bordering Australia contributed to a poor growing season last year while local demand for the fruit increased. This led the cost of avocados to more than triple, reaching up to $4 per fruit—$6 in New Zealand currency—the Washington Post reported.

"It’s an easy way to make a quick buck, but I don’t think we are dealing with a sophisticated or highly organized operation here, more opportunistic," Jen Scoular, chief executive officer of New Zealand's avocado association, told the Guardian.

Bandits have carried out recent thefts in the middle of the night by raking hundreds of avocados from trees, collecting them in blankets, and then selling them illegally at road stands, grocery stores, or small restaurants in Auckland.

Police warned that the stolen avocados "carry risks" because those sprayed with pesticides could carry toxins on their skin.

No violence has been linked to the avocado thefts and New Zealand farms have begun installing automatic lights and alarm systems to deter thieves.