After several years of strong sales, greater supplies of lemons this season have soured market prices, though there's hope the launch of a new seedless variety could help rejuvenate the category.
California lemon shippers and packers agree larger crops and overlapping harvests from different growing regions have put more pressure on the current market, with prices down from last year.
Mexico had a longer season, sending fruit as late as December when its season typically runs from July to October, said Glenn Miller, president of Saticoy Lemon Association, a cooperative packer in Ventura County. California production also rose, he added, particularly in the desert and in the San Joaquin Valley, both of which have recently added more acreage.
"Those trees are starting to produce fruit and it's turning out to be a little bit heavier than the market can take at this point," Miller said. "When supply started getting larger and the demand is going along at the same pace, then all of a sudden you have more product chasing the market."
Unlike other citrus fruits, lemons are typically used as a condiment, with the biggest demand coming from food service, said Fred Strickland, director of grower relations for Corona-College Heights Orange and Lemon Association, a shipper-packer in Riverside County. Though restaurants are steady users of lemons, they don't necessarily buy "too much more" when prices drop, he noted.