As winter weather closes in on the Northern Hemisphere, the demand for limes changes accordingly. In the Netherlands, the lime market saw a resurgence in mid-October after a challenging September, attributed to lower export volumes and a robust local market in Brazil. In Germany, stable demand for limes throughout the year, with a slight price increase, is observed, primarily relying on Brazilian limes. The UK's lime market remains "finely balanced," with Brazil dominating supply due to higher prices in the US, while other sources face delays.

Italy witnessed a recovery in lime prices after a dip in the summer, with various sourcing countries and an emerging niche product from Sicily. South Africa currently experiences high lime prices, as it's the lowest point in the domestic production season. In North America, lime supply from Mexico faces inconsistencies, leading to diversification in sourcing, while firm pricing is expected until spring. Brazil reports a good year for limes, with steady costs and expectations of reduced fruit supply till March. In Colombia, lime production is on the rise, focusing on security in pricing and supply, organic limes, and the food service sector.

Netherlands: Lime market picked up from mid-October
"After a difficult September month with a still too large lime supply for the time of year and therefore low prices, in mid-October, due to lower export volumes, partly caused by the good local market in Brazil, prices in Europe picked up again," said a Dutch importer. “The new harvest starts in early November and it is expected that there will be enough limes available. As long as export volumes remain under control in the coming winter months, we expect a stable market."

Germany: Stable demand for limes
The demand for limes is traditionally much higher in the summer, as the product is used a lot for cocktails, etc. The demand for limes is also very stable at the moment. Over the whole year, demand is fairly stable and comparable to previous years. Prices have increased slightly recently. At the moment, Brazilian Tahiti is the main lime traded, the Spanish season has been over for a few weeks and lasts only 2-3 months. Due to the shorter transport routes, the logistics costs for Spanish limes are lower, but the labour costs are significantly higher compared to Latin America, so that the price differences are minimal.

Regarding the rising import volume in recent years, limes seem to be enjoying increasing popularity in Germany, although they often appear in the statistics together with lemons. Consequently, it is difficult to quantify the exact import and sales volumes. Importers unanimously confirm that limes have established themselves above all as a summer item and are not infrequently taken instead of a lemon.

UK: Lime market ‘finely balanced‘
The lime market is never stable and at the moment the European and UK markets are reliant on Brazil for supply as Central American countries have been supplying very little this season.

“The reason that there is very little coming from other countries is higher prices in the US – with very little risk and a 3 day transit it just does not make sense to ship to Europe. This leaves Brazil as the dominant player in Europe at the moment,” said a UK importer.

European fruit has moved through already with Spain being the major volume, Vietnamese arrivals are steady but expensive and Peru’s season has been delayed by El Nino and has only just started which is 8 weeks later than normal.

The market is finely balanced – as volumes decline from Brazil consumption also declines as we move to Autumn weather. Prices are peaking at the moment due to low volumes of large sizes and a slight under-supply caused by a couple of low export weeks in combination with logistical blips.

"Personally I see this as something that can change fast – it only takes a 10% oversupply to send things in the wrong direction as consumption continues its natural decline through November, December will then see a seasonal uplift in consumption. The problem that both sides (exporter and importer) face is that there are too many players and speculation is dangerous."

On the export side the growers have been hit with rain and also have a decent local market and combined with high traded prices in Europe, their understandable reaction is to expect high prices. On the import side consumption is declining and the risk to fix high MG prices increases along with probable quality issues on arrival.

The danger is that the market could face a repeat scenario of last year where the growers held prices too high for too long and then the market completely collapsed as a result and this created a lot of tension and significant losses.

This estimate of when prices should decline at source and when the market will have a problem is the big gamble in the lime industry.

Italy: Lime prices recover after dip in summer
According to a wholesaler in northern Italy, average consumption of limes has increased over the years, but prices have not always been high. “After a summer that could have been better, the market for limes has recovered: from €5-6 to €9-10 for the Brazilian product. In general, however, there is not so much available. The product comes mainly from Brazil, followed by Colombia (a surprisingly good producer) and Mexico. Special mention should be made of the more niche product from Sicily, which has improved considerably in quality compared to previous years and is on a par with Brazilian prices. Spain also entered the market in September and October with local produce: in this case, too, the quality has improved.”

A tropical fruit trader from central Italy adds: "Quantities from Brazil are low because of the heavy rains and the Xanthomonas citri infection. This phytopathy has led to the closure of many packing stations in Brazil, as European entry controls are very strict and containers from less careful exporters have often been rejected. Almost nothing arrives from Mexico, as the US market is still very strong and pays a price that is not considered sustainable in Europe. Small quantities also arrive from Honduras, Peru and Guatemala, but these countries are not experienced exporters and the quality almost always leaves something to be desired.”

South Africa: Prices currently sky high for limes
Limes are currently very expensive (a buyer used an expletive to describe the prices) because this is traditionally the lowest point in the domestic production season. There are a handful of lime growers in Mpumalanga and Western Cape with limited amounts at the moment.

Imported limes from Brazil supplement domestic production to meet retail and wholesale demand.

“There is always a demand for limes and that's why we carry it all year,” a retail buyer says. “We try to stick with local until we can't anymore. It's a small line but we have to have it.”

According to the daily price list of the Johannesburg fresh produce market, 4.5kg trays of limes sell at an average of R50 (2.5 euros)/kg, while limes in 1kg trays are R25 (1.25 euro) per kilogram and in 3kg pockets it goes down to R8 per kg.

The biggest challenges this time of year are the size and the colour, says a lime buyer.

“As we’re going into warmer temperatures the limes get a lot yellower, not as lime green as they should be, so we’re battling to get limes within the retail spec.”

Limes that are too yellow go for juicing and processing.

“Economically things are tight but the loyal lime consumer is probably still able to buy limes,” a lime importer remarks.

North America: Firm lime pricing expected until spring
Lime supply from Mexico continues to be inconsistent due to weather and other ongoing conditions including some aging trees, disease problems in nursery stock and drought. That means that fruit sizing and fruit bloom continues to be a problem.

In turn, some major retailers are either moving or diversifying their supply regions to include more supply from countries such as Colombia. Colombia is offering consistent lime supply, though internal markets are also very good in both Colombia and Peru. From Peru, there is a struggle with fruit size with a lot of 230s, 250s and 200s but beyond 200s, it’s more difficult.

However, supply and demand are in balance, even with slightly softer demand, particularly in foodservice. However, demand has exceeded supply on the larger fruit and it’s expected to stay like that for the next 90 to 120 days.

As for pricing, it is firmer than last year and nearing $6-$7/box and it’s expected to stay that way, particularly on the medium and large fruit, through the spring.

Brazil: A good year for limes
The lime costs are steady in the biggest production region of São Paulo Region, which is responsible for 60-70% of Brazilian lime. Last week Brazil sent 50/60 containers. During the most recent week 44 Brazil sent 100 containers to Europe. The selling price was around €9-€11 per box for a 4,5 kg carton. One exported said: “2023 has been a good year for limes in terms of prices and quality, but not as good as 2022. We expect a bit less fruit from now till March, when we reach the peak of the season again.”

Colombia: Improved lime production
Producers in Colombia are making substantial strides to supply retailers by using multiple origins when designing their annual programs, to allow for more security in the pricing and supply of their programs. There is also a shifting focus on expanding field and packing production, with an extra focus on the organic and "juicing" lime sectors for food service. One producer said their company sees future growth in both of these sub-sectors.

Next week: Global Market Overview Strawberries!