If they were available, large limes (175 size and greater) could return a shipper $110 or more for a 40-pound box.
"That's what you could get if you had any," said Ronald Cohen, vice president of sales at Vision Import Group LLC. in River Edge, NJ. "The trouble is, there aren't any."
The lime market has been red hot for more than a month because of bad weather in Mexico's lime-producing regions in December. Very cold temperatures and wet weather reduced the bloom and even damaged some trees.
That lack of December bloom created the short supplies in March. Chasing the hot market, growers have been stripping trees, which has prolonged the shortage, according to Cohen.
That explanation makes sense because if limes are allowed to stay on the tree and size, it takes fewer to fill a carton. But instead there are fewer and fewer limes available to get the added size because of the stripping.
Cohen said the result has been quite a price differential between large and small limes, though all the sizes are trading at well-above normal pricing.
On April 16, he said 175s and larger were $110; 200s were $100; 230s were returning mostly $80 per carton; and 250s were $60-65. Cohen told buyers to beware of bargain limes, as there is some improper sizing going on to capture the hot market. He said if a carton of 200s is priced too low, it's probably filled with 230s.
Rosbel Ruiz, operations manager for Limex Sicar Ltd. in Mission, TX, concurred that the lime market is the strongest he has ever seen and it will remain strong for several more months. He said the hot market has led to increased supplies from non-traditional sources.
"We are sourcing some limes from Guatemala bringing them into Mexico and then into the United States," he said. "And there are some limes in Texas from Florida, which came from Colombia."
Ruiz said the firm's Mexican sources are telling them that there is more tree damage than initially indicated, so that it might take several months for the supply-demand curve to get in sync.
Cohen is a bit more optimistic that the hot market will subside a bit in the near term, though he still sees a pretty strong market through May.
He reasoned that several factors are influencing both the demand and supply sides of the equation, which will bring them closer together. The high prices are causing some to use lemons instead of limes or to just forego the lime slice altogether.
And he said suppliers from Honduras, Colombia and Guatemala are trying to capitalize on the hot market. Increased shipments from those non-traditional supplies should also put a downward pressure on the price.
In addition, speaking just prior to the Easter break, he said that holiday will close the packingsheds in Mexico for about five days until April 22. That should allow some limes to size a bit on the tree and change the size profile for the following week.
"I think the market will start coming down in $5 increments and by June it should be in the $30s," he said.