Rise in avocado prices sees spike in thefts across New Zealand orchards

A rise in avocado prices has seen an increase in the amount of thefts and orchardists are doing all they can to prevent people from stealing their fruit.

Avocado file image.
Avocado file image. Source: Wikimedia Commons, Susan Slater

According to the New Zealand Avocado Growers Association, harvest volumes this month were down to around half that for the previous season. This decrease affected the average retail prices of avocados, which may be causing an increase in thefts.

Statistics New Zealand said avocado prices rose 37 percent in May to record levels after a small harvest.

The average price for a 200g avocado rose to $5.06 in May 2018, up 37 per cent from $3.69 in April 2018. The price in May this year, up 50 per cent from $3.38 in May 2017, is the highest ever for avocados since records began.

Avocado Industry Council chief executive Jen Scoular said, "We are providing signage to say that avocado theft is punishable, trying to prevent it from happening in the first place."

She said the orchards that are being targeted are the most accessible from the road or easy to drive into.

Ms Scoular said in some cases vans and trucks driving into orchards just "wack" the avocados from the tree onto a blanket or duvet cover and put it into the back of the vehicle and take away a couple of crates full.

"It's not good enough, they're invading the privacy of people's livelihoods.  It's a personal issue as well as a financial one."

Chief executive of produce company Seeka, Michael Frank said there are growing incidents of avocado thefts. 

He said what they are doing now to try and catch the thieves is deploying detection cameras in the orchards to stop them from stealing.  It will also give the police evidence.

Mr Frank said thieves are coming in at night and at times when there is no one in the orchard, walking in with bags, stealing the fruit, putting it into their vehicles and then disappearing.  

"The areas where we have experienced the most theft is in the mid north and the Far North  (Northland) particularly near Houhora."

Western Bay of Plenty Senior Sergeant Mark Pakes said, "Fruit thefts cause great distress to the orchardists who rely on their crops for income, which is why we want all the information we can get on suspicious behaviour in rural areas."

He said people should be cautious if they see avocados being sold at a discounted rate from a questionable source.