In the middle of the month, London Fruit’s grower partners were reporting warmer weather, which should get production back on track.
The big volume drops aren’t related to citrus greening, Wiebusch said.
The specter of greening raised its head in Mexico in June, when a live Asian citrus psyllid was found on a shipment of Mexican limes entering the U.S. — the first-ever find by the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service in a commercial shipment.
But Wiebusch said he hadn’t heard of that as a reason for the severely lower volumes of limes from Mexico’s Veracruz region.
In mid-March Val Verde was sourcing mainly from Veracruz, with some fruit coming in from Oaxaca.
Instead, Wiebusch said, Mother Nature is to blame.
“They had unseasonable rains, at the time when they were blooming,” he said. “They lost some of their blooms. Then it was unseasonably cold.”
By mid-March, just as it was warming up in the U.S., Veracruz also was enjoying more seasonably normal temperatures, which should mean an uptick in lime production in late March or early April.
“To the best of my knowledge, supplies will remain pretty scarce through the end of the month,” he said. “Their temperatures are starting to get back into the 60s and 70s.”
Retailers still have limes in their produce departments, but at current prices, they’re not selling as much as usual, Wiebusch said.
On-ad retail prices in the week ending March 14 averaged 44 cents per lime, up from 33 cents last year at the same time, according to the USDA’s National Fruit & Vegetable Retail Report.
Foodservice, however, is another story.
“I’ve noticed some of the Mexican restaurants I go to are using lemons instead of limes,” he said.
Orders for limes have been about normal for Salinas, Calif.-based Markon Cooperative, and the company has been able to fill them, said Michelle Davidson, product manager.
“Markon has a good shipper base we’ve built up, and we’re getting covered on 100% of orders,” she said.
What’s helping, Davidson said, is that customers have been flexible on size, willing to take whatever sized fruit Markon can find on a given day.
In a glass of tea or another beverage, restaurants that typically use limes “99% of the time” are now using lemons instead, Wiebusch said.