Restaurants squeezed by high price of limes

The price of limes has shot up above $100 a case recently.  It has restauranteurs rethinking how - and if - they serve limes.

Danny Herrera (right) manages Fonda San Miguel, a Mexican restaurant in Austin. Six months ago, Herrera was paying $14 for a case of limes. "Then it slowly started getting higher and higher, and then as of last week it was up to $99."

The margarita bar at Fonda San Miguel restaurant in Austin, Tx.

So just how expensive are limes these days?  Danny Herrera manages Fonda San Miguel, one of the priciest Mexican restaurants in Austin.  He says six months ago, he was paying $14 a case.

"Then it kinda went up to $20, and then it slowly started getting higher and higher," he says. "And then as of last week, it was up to $99."

Herrera stopped garnishing his meals with limes, and he's rethinking his Margarita prices. 

Most of the limes we consume come from Mexico - particularly the state of Michoacan, an area dominated by the drug cartels and citizen militias. Producers say they'd rather burn their crops than sell at the pitiful prices the cartels pay. I talked to one of the lime producers in Michoacan. He asked me to change his name to Carlos because he's afraid of the cartels.

Carlos says local lime prices are not high, they've held steady. "I don't understand why the public says the price is too high."

When I tell Carlos that some restauranteurs in the U.S. are paying around $100 per case, he's shocked.

"Son of a… That's a gross exageration."

Carlos says somebody is making a lot of money. But it isn't him. He says floods and plagues have cut citrus production in Mexico by half.

And there's a growing global taste for limes.

"In Asia, it's an important part of their supply and demand," says Dr. Eric Thor from the School of Agribusiness at Arizona State University. He says limes are more expensive now - in part - because there are millions more people using them. "Today we use the fruits in everything from special Margaritas to Asian noodles."

Now, planes full of fruit from the Americas are flown to China. And that has increased the price of everything from limes to cherries. But why do people in the United States pay for what consumers in China want? Thor says, basically, because we're still willing to pay for limes -- no matter the price.

He says the price will come down based on the time of year, and based on production.

As for now, it's hard to find limes in some Austin taco eateries. During my last visit to my favorite taco place, the attendant handed me a lemon instead of a lime. Can you believe that? In my book, that's a "no no." Tacos and lemons don't go together.

 

About the author

Joy Diaz is a reporter for KUT in Austin, Tx.

Danny Herrera (right) manages Fonda San Miguel, a Mexican restaurant in Austin. Six months ago, Herrera was paying $14 for a case of limes. "Then it slowly started getting higher and higher, and then as of last week it was up to $99."

The margarita bar at Fonda San Miguel restaurant in Austin, Tx.

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