Why Americans Are Smuggling Fruit Roll-Ups Into Israel
Cocaine. Foreign currencies. Firearms. All contraband that customs agents are trained to catch.
But hundreds of pounds of Fruit Roll-Ups?
Welcome to the age of TikTok-influenced smuggling.
Because of a recipe that spread widely on the social media platform, Fruit Roll-Ups — the American-made fruit leather snack that has been passed out to children at baseball games and slumber parties since the 1980s — have become an obsession in Israel, where a shortage means smuggling in the snacks can be highly profitable.
But the Israeli government is cracking down. The Israeli Tax Authority exposed the scheme in a statement on social media last week, saying that inspectors and an undercover unit at Ben Gurion Airport had caught several people, including Americans, trying to bring excessive amounts of the snacks into the country.
The agency has confiscated hundreds of pounds of Fruit Roll-Ups, it said — 661 pounds in one week alone. Given that one Roll-Up weighs in at 0.5 of an ounce, that makes for tens of thousands of individual packets.
The reason for it all? People want their ice cream to crunch, and they’re willing to pay.
The trend began earlier this year when Golnar Ghavami, an influencer who goes by @golisdream on TikTok, posted a video of herself wrapping a scoop of mango ice cream in a Fruit Roll-Up, thinking she was just sharing her “guilty pleasure.”
She showed that the Fruit Roll-Up froze instantly around the ice cream and made a hands-friendly dessert that offers a surprising and satisfying crunch. Ms. Ghavami’s original video now has over 14 million views, and TikTok has been flooded with videos of people trying it out — including some from the official Fruit Roll-Ups account, whose social media managers appeared to be basking in the overnight success.
But the frenzy in Israel left stores across Tel Aviv completely sold out of Fruit Roll-Ups, according to local news reports. When they could get their hands on them, merchants around the country instead started selling individually wrapped Fruit Roll-Ups — which are typically sold in boxes containing several of the snacks — for up to $8 each, the Tax Authority said, even though a box of 10 Fruit Roll-Ups in the United States averages around $3.
The market shortage caught the attention of enterprising minds in America.
In late April, the agency said, an American couple were caught, each carrying a suitcase filled with more than 185 pounds of Fruit Roll-Ups, part of a haul of nearly 375 pounds. The Tax Authority also shared a video of the unusual discovery, which appeared to show a customs official sifting through several suitcases filled only with hundreds of the small silver and red foil packets.
That far exceeded the legal import limit for an individual entering Israel, which is around 11 pounds of a specific food product.
A man’s voice in the video can be heard answering why he had filled two checked bags with Fruit Roll-Ups. “It has something to do with ice cream,” he said, according to The Times of Israel.
More recently, another couple was caught with around 70 pounds of Fruit Roll-Ups, according to the agency. Two single passengers were also caught coming from the United States with large amounts: one with nearly 73 pounds of the snacks in suitcases and another traveling with over 143 pounds of them.
Last week, Israel’s Health Ministry took a stand and issued a warning against Fruit Roll-Ups writ large.
The agency, in a statement on Twitter, called the frenzy and the smuggling attempts “madness.” The confection, the ministry warned, might be photogenic and trendy, but it’s also full of unhealthy sugar and oils.
Instead, it offered an alternative: cucumber rolls.