The now-dead El Niño wreaked serious havoc upon our food supply, from poisoning shellfish to obliterating stone fruits. Now the avocado is at risk. In Australia and New Zealand, a double whammy of massive fires and heavy rains wiped out avocado crops, causing a shortage of the brunch staple. Growers would have been able to manage, if it weren’t for a sudden and skyrocketing avocado demand.
Until recently, the New Zealand avocado market has largely catered to exports. But last year, an additional 96,000 New Zealand households started purchasing avocados. Increased demand, paired with the weather troubles, meant prices reached as high as $7 per avo earlier this year (now it’s more like $2 to $4). According to The Guardian, now the valuable fruits are now the target of massive heists, with 40 large-scale thefts since January. One hit nabbed 350 avocados at once—that’s like 700 avocado toasts!
Thieves are climbing into orchards to pick avocados in the dark of night then sell them directly to restaurants at prices that slightly undercut local produce vendors:
Sergeant Aaron Fraser of Waihi said there had been “spates” of avocado thefts during his time in the police but nothing as sustained as the current activity.
“These stolen avocados can carry risks,” he said.
“They are unripe, some have been sprayed recently and they may still carry toxins on the skin. But with the prices so high at the moment, the potential for profit is a strong inducement for certain individuals.”
I am not sure how an unripe, sprayed avocado that you might let soften and peel to eat could pose a risk, but hey, he’s the avocado crime expert, not me.
While farmers try to bolster crop security with lights and alarm systems, the problem might regulate itself in coming months. The avocado industry told The Guardian that more locally grown fruits hitting the market will help to bring prices down. Although even this statement is wrapped in conspiracy: Earlier this year it was reported that growers were manipulating the ripening process, exacerbating the shortage.
Yet no one is blaming the real enemy here. NPR recently reported on how avocado toast has been embraced Down Under, so much so that Australians now believe they invented it. The scourge of meticulously styled, overhead-shot avocado toast has exploded over the last year, due to the widespread proliferation of Instagram. The #avocadotoast hashtag features over 150,000 examples of how this trend is spreading. No market manipulation could be more powerful than this kind of propaganda.