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As Tomato Prices Rise, Produce Hijackings Soar

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When a truckload of merchandise gets hijacked, one generally expects to hear that the driver was hauling pallets of Apple (AAPL) iPads or a gross of Sony (SNE) PlayStations.

But, after winter freezes damaged Mexican crops, the price of Florida tomatoes "skyrocketed," according to the New York Times. And that's when, as described by the Times, a "ring of sophisticated vegetable bandits" saw an opportunity.

(NOTE: For anyone who may take exception to the Newspaper of Record describing tomatoes as vegetables, here's what Produce Oasis has to say about the issue: "In 1893 , the Supreme Court ruled that the tomato must be considered a vegetable, even though, botanically, it is a fruit. Because vegetables and fruits were subject to different import duties, it was necessary to define it as one or the other. So, tomatoes were declared to be a vegetable given that it was commonly eaten as one.")

Anyway, the Times reports:

Late last month, a gang of thieves stole six tractor-trailer loads of tomatoes and a truck full of cucumbers from Florida growers. They also stole a truckload of frozen meat. The total value of the illegal haul: about $300,000.

The thieves disappeared with the shipments just after the price of Florida tomatoes skyrocketed after freezes that badly damaged crops in Mexico. That suddenly made Florida tomatoes a tempting target, on a par with flat-screen TVs or designer jeans, but with a big difference: tomatoes are perishable.

“I’ve never experienced people targeting produce loads before,” said Shaun Leiker, an assistant manager at Allen Lund, a trucking broker in Oviedo, Fla., that was hit three times by the thieves. “It’s a little different than selling TVs off the back of your truck.”

Apparently, the tomato hijackings began in late February, "right around the time produce prices were soaring."

“They were just sitting and waiting, watching the produce because they knew it was climbing,” said Clifford Holland, a trucking company owner who was hit by the gang.

“We’ve never seen anything like this,” added Bob Spencer, an owner of West Coast Tomato in Palmetto, Florida -- which supplies McDonald's (MCD) and Burger King (BKC) -- and lost 40,000 lbs. of tomatoes to the thieves.

ABC News (DIS) says, "At the time, prices for the kind of tomatoes Spencer grows were up around $25 for a 25-pound box."

Spencer told ABC's Alan Farnham that those boxes bring $15 per on the black market, and that he is "now taking new precautions to protect his tomatoes," but won't reveal what his security measures entail.

The real question now is, how long before Goldline gets out of the precious metals business and starts hawking investment-grade produce?
POSITION:  No positions in stocks mentioned.