Perfect Timing: A Lime Shortage on Cinco de Mayo

LimeWhat are you doing about the lime shortage?

If you haven’t noticed, the price of limes is soaring. Mexico, one of the world's largest lime exporters, supplies the U.S. with an estimated 97 percent of the limes we use, about 500,000 tons annually. But heavy rains hit major lime-growing regions like Veracruz, delaying the usual harvest and driving prices to an all-time high. A 40-pound crate of Mexican limes has been fetching more than $100 wholesale, four times the typical seasonal price.

There are also widespread rumors about disputes between transportation and drug cartels and growers contributing to the problem, but whatever the cause, next week’s Cinco de Mayo will be lime-challenged and for the foreseeable future, operators will have some hard decisions to make about their lime usage.

What are the options? Cutting back is what some folks are doing, eliminating lime garnishes or halving their size. Others more concerned about their use of fresh lime juice in cocktails are exploring options like including Meyer lemons in the juice mix, though those are not always available and not inexpensive to source.

Others are turning to fresh frozen lime juice, lime syrups or substitutes, but that just won’t cut it with the slew of craft cocktail bars that have built their reputations on cocktails made to order with the freshest of ingredients.

Some operators in citrus growing regions of the US have gone a step further, asking customers who might have their own lime trees for help, offering discounted food and drink in exchange.

It’s inevitable that cutting back is only a stopgap method; bars and nightclubs are simply going to have to either pass the cost along to customers or take a hit on their pour cost. The last time there was a tequila shortage, perhaps 14 years ago, some operators started including other spirits in their Margarita recipes, and at least one spirit supplier tried marketing a tequila-like spirit, an unholy mix of fairly neutral rum mixed with mixto tequila.

Bad substitutes, though, are a short-sighted way to solve a seemingly intractable problem. Instead, if Margaritas are at the core of your business, think instead about no longer serving the schooners of slushy drinks, or at least raising the price while introducing better, hand-made Margaritas, smaller and tastier.

There’s also the perfectly legit concept of mixing citrus - grapefruit and less sweet Valencia oranges, say - in with lime juice to create a signature Margarita. When life gives you lemons, make lemonade, the saying goes. When Mexico doesn't give you limes, well, let’s see who solves that problem the best.


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