The global lime market is currently set for a revival, as the catering industry continues to open back up across many countries, increasing the demand for the citrus fruit.
Markets like the Netherlands expect this trend to continue as the year progresses and as the tourism industry gets back on its feet in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Much of the supply of limes on European and American markets are currently coming from Brazil and Mexico, despite ongoing shipping issues, whilst South Africa and Australia focus on their domestic supply.
South Africa in particular has seen an increase in demand for limes, as Mexican cuisine, in which limes are a frequent ingredient, becomes more popular in the country.
Not all is sunshine in limes, however, as both Mexico and South Africa have seen heavy rains in their production areas, causing significant fruit dropping, and lowering supplies.
Outlook of the global lime market
Netherlands: Market for limes picks up further
Dutch importers expect the market for limes to pick up further. “In the Brazilian production areas, there has been almost continuous rainfall, which has led to a significant reduction in the harvest. The expectation is therefore that the market will run out of limes.
“Prices are still at a level of around 5-6 Euro, but there will be a few euros more in the coming weeks.
“January was not a bad month, but I think that sales are weakening this month. On the demand side, it is positive that the catering industry has opened up further.
“At the same time, the closing time is not yet such that it has really set the consumption of limes in motion again. That is expected to happen again when people go back on holiday and tourism comes back to life.”
Germany: Limes from Brazil and Mexico dominate the market
A wholesale trader from North Rhine Westphalia currently sources limes through an importer from Rotterdam and buys them for 7-8 Euro per case. He usually sells between 100-150 crates a week in 54-calibers with 4kg.
At the moment, he is only selling around 70-80 crates. According to the trader, the limes are characterized by top-quality with rich juice and only have a few spots on the peel. There have also not been any delivery problems lately.
A big importer from Northern Germany also imports Brazilian limes. He said that their imports have increased significantly due to the fact that the demand has fallen domestically. Brazil is now exporting a lot abroad, especially to Europe with mainly Persian or Tahitian limes, a seedless variety.
Also popular is the thin-skinned Sutil variety. The Brazilian product can be offered almost all year round, which is also related to the growing professionalization on site.
In Mexico, on the other hand, domestic demand is much higher with more produce being exported to the U.S. and Canada. Volumes have also increased for Mexican products. For the German and European markets, limes from Mexico are not expected again until May and are likely to last until December.
Prices for limes have remained relatively stable in recent weeks. Market circumstances also made for rather muted demand.
Italy: Limes from Brazil and Mexico on the Italian market
The market for limes is stable in Italy at the moment, after a pre-holiday buzz in December, when the supply of the citrus fruit was coming from various origins. Demand has been declining for a few weeks now.
A wholesaler in northern Italy says: “Consumption is not spiking up or down. At the moment, the average purchase price is around 5 Euro per 4.5 kg package for lime from Brazil, about 1.20 Euro per kg. On sale, you generally have to calculate an extra 2 or 3 Euro. Mexican limes are limited on the market and generally have an average purchase price of 1.50 Euro per 4 kg package more than the Brazilian product.”
Spain: Excellent start to 2022 Spanish lime market
2021 turned out to be a very good year for lime sales in Spain and 2022 is starting off better than expected, although it will bring major logistical challenges.
“The month of January has been positive, with prices between 6 and 7 Euro per box of 4.5 kg. This beginning of the year has been better than expected. There have been many delays in the arrival of ships from the origin and this has made that supply would be more tensed than in other years, taking into account that in January there is usually less demand,” says an importer.
January and February are not months of great consumption of lime, so it is still difficult to see a greater reactivation of the catering channel compared to 2021 with this product. For the moment, consumption is calm, but it is to be hoped that in spring, and if the indicators of the pandemic continue to improve, consumption will pick up.
“We are coming off a good 2021 in which sales went very well in the summer,” recalls the importer.
The good availability of the product from Brazil also helped to develop sales well. In fact, Brazil exported 30% more volume last year than the previous year, whilst Mexico sold less product in Europe due to lower production caused by weather problems. Furthermore, a partial opening of tourism and restaurants, in general, helped limes sales.”
According to the importer, there are several challenges with regard to lime distribution: On the one hand, logistics continue to complicate the flow of imports with delays to the ships and documents that arrive later than the fruit itself. On the other hand, the health authorities can’t cope with that much work and the new regulations block the fruit upon arrival on some occasions.
The increased cost of logistics will also be a challenge in the coming months, not only for limes but for all fruits. It is a challenge at the macroeconomic level in general. At the moment, Spain is mainly importing from Brazil.
South Africa: Increase in popularity of limes
The months of January and February are peak lime seasons in South Africa. The supply of citrus fruit is currently strong and prices are low, as growers expect this time of the year. A Lowveld lime grower says lime prices were strong last year while local supplies were low: between R140 (7.9 euros) and R180 (10.2 Euros) for a 3kg bag from July until November; currently, the price is around R30 (1.7 Euro) a bag.
The growing popularity of Mexican restaurants in South Africa and the lifting of COVID regulations have stimulated lime demand.
There has been a lot of fruit drop in lime orchards as a result of the high amounts of rain and many overcast days over South Africa this summer has slowed growth.
Although South Africa exports very few limes, some limes are imported from Brazil counter-seasonally.
North America: High prices for limes on the NA market are expected to hold up
Lime prices on the North American market continue to stay high and are expected to stay that way for the near future.
“Three weeks ago, the market went from a $24 market to a high of $60 FOB Texas,” says one shipper. “I think in the short term it will stay elevated, maybe until the middle of March. However, there is a price point where people will just stop using limes. But it’s tough to gauge what that is.”
What is driving the higher pricing right now? “The lime market is a roller coaster ride or a yo-yo,” says the shipper. January for instance saw inconsistent crossings of loads from Mexico into South Texas, the largest point of entry for limes in the U.S. According to the USDA, the week ending January 27th saw 622 loads while the week ending January 20th was 379 loads.
“You get these swings. They are not necessarily the fault of growers or the production people. Sixty percent of all the limes that flow through Mexico come through Veracruz and the city of Martínez de la Torre,” he says.
However, micro-climates throughout Mexico have also allowed lime crops to grow in many other parts of Mexico, in regions that 10-15 years ago saw minimal to no production limes. Those regions account for the remaining 40 percent of Mexican production.
“That’s the swing in the market nobody has control over. In this case, they tried to predict a production shortfall but they found limes elsewhere, from those smaller production zones,” he says.
Limes can also be trickier to harvest as well. “Limes produce roughly four times a year, so 90-100 days from flower to fruit,” says the shipper. “But, taking in these micro-climates, you also have to harvest them at the right point. Limes have an optimum point where you have to harvest them.”
Meanwhile, demand continues to grow for citrus products. “Consumption increases every year. But to complement that, there have been more production areas being brought in. So what 10-15 years ago was a large supply for a low market, today is the opposite,” says the shipper.
He does note, however, that current demand is on the lower side, thanks largely to weather.
“When there’s bad weather in the U.S., particularly in the Northeast, which has the highest concentration of population in the country when it’s cold and snowy, people don’t want to go out. Cold weather reduces demand on lime sales,” he adds.
Australia: Good prices for Australian limes as exports overtake imports
Limes are in good supply at the moment and selling for good value, at most of the major Australian markets. The Sydney Markets reported the citrus fruit is in plentiful supply, and very affordable at $3-$7 a kilo or 30¢-60¢ each, when bought in bulk.
At major supermarkets, the cost is slightly higher at 80c-$1.30, with an increase in demand for the fruit across the summer months, as consumers are inspired to use limes in tropical drinks and cooking/salads.
Last year a peak industry body noted the country produces about 30,000 tonnes of limes each year, with 28,000 tonnes produced in Far North Queensland year-round.
Along with lemons, limes are often the primary source of income for most FNQ growers, and national exports in this category are slowly increasing year on year, and according to statistics, in the year 2019/20 exports (4,206 tonnes) overtook imports (3,902 tonnes).