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Restauranteurs boggle at spike in price of limes

Wednesday, Jul. 2 | By Hannah Dellinger
Mexican restaurants, bars and purveyors of key lime pies all rely on the zesty citrus fruit. But a perfect storm of bad weather and turmoil have risen costs for some Fauquier business owners.
Fauquier Times Staff Photo/Randy Litzinger
You may not always notice or appreciate them, but once they’re gone it’s just not the same.

Limes are an essential summer garnish for all kinds of Latin American food, alcoholic beverages, desserts and more. In the past few months the price of this zesty commodity has skyrocketed thanks to a poor harvest season in Mexico. Local restaurants and stores have felt the squeeze from the spike in cost.
“The prices have been through the roof,” said Mojitos & Tapas Restaurant owner Jackie Hitchcock. “It was over $100 per crate, and normally a crate costs about $20 or $30.”

About 95 percent of the U.S.’s limes come from Mexico, according to a study by the University of Florida. Since Mexico experienced heavy rains this winter, many of the lime crops were lost.

According to reports in the Mexican newspaper Vanguardia, another reason for the lime shortage is interference from drug cartels.
The central state of Michoacán, Mexico is the world’s biggest supplier of limes. The state has experienced bloody gang warfare between the Knights Templar and citizens who have formed self-defense groups for the past 10 years.

The Knights Templar use tactics like hijacking trucks loaded with limes ready for export when farmers refuse to pay extortion fees.

Hitchcock said that even when the lime prices went up, she didn’t pass along the expense to the customers.

“I didn’t raise prices, because I knew that it would normalize eventually,” she said. “It’s a commodity that goes up and down, but it was really over top this time.”

Hitchcock buys her limes from Restaurant Depot in Alexandria, but she checked everywhere for better prices to no avail.

Holder Trumbo, owener of the Foodrite IGA in Marshall and vice chair on the county board of supervisors, said that the higher lime prices didn’t affect his business very much.

“We have noticed the prices go up, but we only sell a couple of cases of limes a week,” he said. “The increase in price developed the same everywhere, so there wasn’t an alternative place to get cheaper limes.”

Trumbo said that since limes are only a garnish, it wasn’t a huge problem for his customers. He said that if a staple like tomatoes had a spike in price, more people would be affected.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the average price for a single lime went from 21 cents to 53 cents.

Luckily restaurant owners like Hitchcock have seen the high lime prices fall down again in the past couple of weeks. Limes are now about 30 cents apiece, according to the USDA.

Better weather and a good spring crop in Veracruz, Mexico have brought a larger supply of limes to the U.S.

There has also been less gang violence in Michoacán. According to the Mexican Interior Department, Federal police have cracked down on the Knights Templar, arresting and killing several top leaders, three collusive mayors and a former governor.

As Hitchcock predicted, the price of limes have begun to normalize. She hopes to make up for the lost profit now that prices are nearly back to what they were last year.

Remember to enjoy that lime in your Corona. It might just be worth more than you think.

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