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The Great Lime Shortage of 2014

"We’ve been hit really hard by the lime shortage. Our Latin menu centers on citrus flavors, and we are paying through the nose for limes.” That’s Jill Cook, marketing director for Matador Cantina, one of several restaurants in Orange County, California, that are owned by Mario Marovic. Cook, as well as her boss and many other restaurants owners, supermarkets, airlines and taco carts across the country, is worried about the scarcity of the lime crop coming out of Mexico.

A rare combination of circumstances – a perfect storm if you will - has occurred this year that has driven prices of limes to record highs for an ever-diminishing supply. In top producing Mexican states (Michoacan, Colima, Guerrero and Veracruz) flooding, drought, and a disease called ‘citrus green’ is crippling production. As a result, less limes are making it north of the border. Mexican drug cartels are also doing their part to keep prices high by stealing truckloads and either ransoming the contents or selling them for premium prices. According to the USDA, lime prices are soaring to as much as $120 a case (up from just $20 a case last year at this time). The price of an individual lime in supermarkets will now set consumers back $1, up from just $.29 last year.

Grocery stores like Albertson’s and Melissa’s Produce, as well as restaurants such as Matador Cantina are feeling the squeeze, and are being forced to pass those costs on to their customers. Rather than having to absorb the high cost of limes, many restaurants are substituting lemons in place of limes. Airlines such as United, as well as fast food chains and taco carts have followed suit. Today, when you order Carnitas el Momo from an LA taco truck, your taco will be garnished with wedges of lemon instead of the more traditional lime. Customers have even gone so far as to rob vendors of whole containers of complimentary lime wedges from condiment bars. It’s no wonder that in Mexico, limes have been given the nickname oro verde or green gold.

Why is this shortage hitting so hard? Mexico supplies over 90% of the limes eaten in the United States, and US lime production is just a drop in the bucket. “We have a lot of citrus production in the US but limes are a little different," said Peter Olson from the USDA’s office in Mexico City. “There are only a few places in the US that have the ideal climatic conditions for lime production. They need a different type of season.”

Next, how the lime shortage is affect your happy hour...

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