Last Sunday, a group of thieves broke into Gold River Orchard in Escalon, California and made off with 140,000 pounds of walnuts. One need not look far to answer the question of why anyone would want to steal that many walnuts: The cargo is worth $400,000.
In fact, because of the skyrocketing price of walnuts, nut thefts have become a somewhat regular thing in California's Central Valley. Last month, 12,000 pounds (or $50,000 worth) of walnuts were stolen from a trailer parked on the side of the highway. And last October, two truck loads of nuts, worth around $300,000, were never seen again. In the NPR story about the most recent theft, there's actually mention of the possibility of a "nut mafia" existing!
Which is to say, there's money in food thefts. They may not be sexy -- odds are you'll never see a heist film where The Big Score is a ton of bananas -- but, if thieves are able avoid the long reach of the law, they can be mighty profitable. For example:
The Nutella Job
Samuel L. Jackson's character in "Pulp Fiction" was right. When you travel abroad, it's not the big differences you remember, but the small things. In Europe, for example, ancient relics that would be thrown in glass cases here in America just casually lie around in the middle of streets. People don't think twice about paying to use public toilets. And everywhere you go, someone has a jar of Nutella. So, the fact that it's a theft-worthy product in Germany isn't surprising. But the fact that, last April, thieves made off with 11,000 pounds worth of it, is. Retail value for the theft? Around $20,000.
Now That's Some Hot Beef
Canada, despite its reputation for sleepy old-fashioned charm, is not immune to food-related thefts. Last September in Hamilton, a port city in Ontario, thieves broke into a truck yard, found a refrigerated trailer, and drove off into the night. The contents of the trailer? 40,000 pounds of beef. The value of the missing beef, according to police, is nearly $100,000. Police suspect this theft is not some one-time caper, but part of an organized crime syndicate responsible for stealing a wide variety of shipments over the past years. I guess ... I guess you could call them FoodFellas? Right, everyone? No? Fine. I'll see myself out.
While most of the other heists on the list wouldn't work as a Hollywood blockbuster script without some heavy artistic license, this theft from 2005 needs only to be transcribed from official police reports. The caper took place on New Year's Day in Moscow, while a rich businessman was away from the office out celebrating the holiday. Thieves broke into the facility and hauled away 22 tons of caviar, or roughly 845 cans of the stuff. As you'd imagine, the contents of the haul make it one of the most valuable food heists in history: The total loss is estimated to be around $470,000.
A food heist doesn't always need a group of experts working for a mafia-like organization. Sometimes, it's just two guys who see an opportunity and want to make a quick buck. That's the case with this dastardly duo out of Atlanta who tried to use their "inside men" status at a local cold storage place to make off with $65,000 worth of chicken wings for, presumably, the greatest Super Bowl party of all time. Unfortunately for the pair, they were busted before being able to fire up the enormous deep fryer.
The inherent danger of any theft, whether it's diamonds or cell phones or walnuts, is that the thief will be caught by police before unloading the stolen items. Ideally, you want to steal something that can be moved quickly and without hang-ups. Which is why, this final theft of 42,000 pounds of delicious muenster cheese might be the most daring of all. I know if I suddenly had access to that much cheese, I wouldn't care it was worth $200,000. I'd simply throw some in the fridge, the rest in the freezer, and have myself one hell of a year.
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