On Aug. 22, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported 40-pound cartons of Mexican limes crossing in Texas had wide f.o.b. price ranges, from $18-$24 (mostly $19-$21) for 110s, 150s and 175s, with wide ranges in quality and condition as well. Aug. 1 prices for the same cartons of 110s and 150s were mostly $13-$15, according to the USDA.
Alex Teague, chief operating officer for Santa Paula, Calif.-based Limoneira, said the effect of lime-for-lemon substitution has been minimal.
“Lemon and lime pricing have historically run independently of each other,” Teague said. “The uptick in lime pricing has more to do with the 90-day cycle of the crop. We are reaching the tail end of one of the cycles.
“There is some substitution, but it’s minimal,” Teague said. “If we had to guess, it would be less than 10% for large foodservice customers. It’s probably a bit higher for independent foodservice operators.”
He noted each fruit has its own uses, particularly when it comes to foodservice.
“With different flavor profiles, chefs and bars generally keep the two with the same uses in beverages and food preparation,” Teague said. “However, they are rarely substituted. A good example is that lemon in water is very common while lime in water is not.
“As for retail, both are highly recipe-driven for most consumers,” Teague said. “Whether for food preparation or beverages, their uses are unique. Again, lemons, with their higher juice and acid content have natural cleaning uses that are more prevalent than their lime cousins.”
Zak Laffite, chief sales officer for Delano, Calif.-based Wonderful Citrus, also described multiple factors driving up lime prices.
“We know of restaurants and other outlets that have received letters from their foodservice suppliers encouraging them to use limes as replacements for lemons due to the lemon shortage,” Laffite said. “In addition, lime pricing is very sensitive to even the most modest supply disruption or threat of one. In recent weeks, there’s been brief disruptions and also threats of storms in the lime-growing regions in Mexico.”
He explained that overall limes have been faring well.
“Consumption continues to increase year-over-year, with the latest weekly IRI figures indicating lime volume purchases are up 5.6% and sales dollars are up 17%,” Laffite said. “Even with higher prices at retail, lime consumption is growing at a healthy pace.