Ever-growing appetites for avocados are causing a surge in crime in New Zealand.
There have been nearly 40 large-scale thefts from avocado orchards on the country's North Island reported since January, according to The Guardian.
Thieves have stolen as many as 350 avocados at a time.
Local growers are focused mainly on the export market and have been unable to meet the booming demand for the versatile fruit, according to the country’s official avocado website, New Zealand Avocado. More than 95,000 New Zealand households added avocados to their grocery lists in 2015.
The demand, combined with results from a poor growing season in 2015, has the fruit selling for around $2.80 to $4.20 each. That’s a steep price for hungry brunch-goers seeking trendy avocado toast.
Thieves have visited farms late at night, either raking avocados from trees and bundling them in sheets or plucking them by hand. The stolen fruit then ends up in road-side stalls, grocery stores or small food shops.
Sergeant Aaron Fraser of Waihi on the island's northeastern coast said he’s never seen such sustained avocado theft during his career.
"…[W]ith prices so high at the moment, the potential for profit is a strong inducement for certain individuals," he said.
New Zealand Avocado CEO Jen Scoular said that while the thefts are concerning, the improved avocado season should yield plenty of fruit in the next few weeks, lowering prices back to normal.
She added that farmers have installed lights and alarm systems to deter thieves.
"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," she said.