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The main producer supplying the European market at this time of the year is Brazil, with smaller supplies from Peru, Colombia and Vietnam. Brazil has a new crop on the way that will coincide well with the European summer season, a period that traditionally sees higher lime consumption. However, Brazil has had heavy rain, slowing production with little supply available. A strong local market that pays good prices can also plays a role, with fewer exports going to Europe.

Asia has seen constant demand from Europe, with Vietnam as the main player for several years, but it went through an abnormal bout of low quality in 2023 and now has to contend with longer shipping times because of the Red Sea issues, which are challenging.

For the USA, as always, the dominant player is Mexico with complementary volumes from Central America, primarily Guatemala and Honduras. The peak pricing for limes during March has not been seen in the US market this year. Colombia is ramping up volumes to around 100 loads per week which is a large volume for Europe but for the USA that is around 15% of the import. Peru is contributing around 25 loads per week to the USA.

The US market has been good for the past few months as this is the Mexican low season and will hit a high period for around 3-4 weeks until mid-April – the timing is hard to judge but the drop back to normality will happen when Mexico returns to full volume. Due to a good US market Peru and Colombia have not really entered Europe in a meaningful way so far this year.

Portugal has seen good production volumes. Reduced shipping volumes from Santos to Rotterdam and growing demand suggest a potentially more lucrative outlook for the lime market in Europe. Italy is seeing fluctuating lime prices. A price rise has been seen leading up to Easter due to lower volumes from Brazil. Demand is also expected to increase with warmer weather in Italy and the rest of Europe.

Germany saw a sharp lime price rise from week 12 to week 13. The basic demand is increasing so much that class II fruit is also being used more and more frequently, a sign that the product is gaining in importance, according to a wholesaler. In the Netherlands the lime market showed improvement over the past two weeks, with fewer shipments from Brazil and increasing demand in Europe.

In France, Brazil remains the dominant supplier. While the temperature in France is cooler, as soon as warmer weather hits, the demand is expected to pick up. Spain has a lack of supply that is leading to a return to high lime prices seen earlier this year. This is mainly due to lower supply from Brazil. Israel has a light volume of limes available for their local market with no exports at this time. In South Africa limes are seen as "a dead loss" by some local market traders. A saturated local market has seen a lot of small fruit with low prices.

Brazil: Low supply, high domestic market prices with rains slowing harvesting
In Brazil there is high demand from the domestic market and little lime on farms, which has caused prices in Brazil to rise and reduced exports to Europe. We are in a week of holidays and rain, which will further reduce exports. I think it will be a year of good prices in Brazil and Europe.

Volumes from Brazil should increase soon due to a new crop that is coming with good quality but also costs are increasing, pushed by the European market demand that comes together with the better weather.

However, the exporter warns: "The scenario seems to be very similar compared to last year however, this year more and more packing houses in Brazil are suffering suspensions imposed by the authorities due to repeat cases of blocked containers in Europe regarding citrus diseases. This is also promoting a very speculating market this side."

The heavy rains over the recent weeks are having an impact on the limes, says an exporter: "It impacts the productivity directly and it brings together a higher risk of quality problems." Another exporter noted: "In our region it has been raining normally. Without doing damage."

Asia: Seeing constant demand from Europe
Vietnam has been the main player for several years, but it went through an abnormal bout of low quality in 2023 and now has to contend with longer shipping times because of the Red Sea issues, which is challenging.

"The European demand for limes is fairly constant but when the sun shines it can really pick up! So, what we tend to see is a fairly steady market in the winter months which can easily be unbalanced negatively with as little as 10% oversupply. So far this year we have seen this happen a few times with some peak weeks from Brazil and quite a lot of confused information from the supply base – often stating that there would be a short supply the following week which then materialised into a large export week – this could be caused by the fragmentation of the supply base and also by the regional variances which can give sometimes conflicting data," according to one importer.

Growing conditions have been challenging this year, higher than normal temperatures and often periods of prolonged rain, this has translated into higher incidences of defects particularly skin issues that appear late and often deter the consumer. Brown lesions on the skin come out of an apparent clean piece of fruit, often after temperature changes. This kind of situation happened in the year following El Niño in the past so perhaps that is the correlation.

European demand is expected to increase as normal from spring onwards the level will be determined by the European appetite to party…. Many would say that the cost-of-living crisis across all Europe will slow down consumption, we hope that any negative effect will be countered by an increased culinary or health use of limes.

Vessel delays in combination with phytosanitary rejections in Europe, mainly for citrus canker, add to the volatility of this item. This Easter weekend is a good example; prices will jump to very high levels due to a vessel being late, but following this spike we will see a larger volume hit the market that is all a week older.

Portugal: Reduced shipping volumes present chance to capture higher prices
Compared to the previous Portuguese lime season, there has been good production volumes and quality standards throughout most of the season. However, recent developments in the market, including reduced shipping volumes and growing demand, suggest a potentially more lucrative outlook for the limes market in Europe. The recent decrease in shipping volumes of limes, particularly from Santos to Rotterdam, has contributed to a tightening of supply in the market for coming weeks. This reduction is expected to drive up prices as demand outpaces the available supply. While the recent reduction in shipping volumes of limes presents challenges in meeting customer demand, it also creates opportunities to capture higher prices in the market.

Italy: Fluctuating prices
A wholesaler in northern Italy reported a noticeable change in the lime market from the beginning of March until the days just before Easter. In week 10, the cost of a 4.5 kg box of lime from Brazil was between €5 and €6, but by week 13 the price had risen to over €10, possibly even reaching €12-13. The main reason for this increase is the reduced availability of Brazilian lime, coupled with the lack of supply from Mexico and Colombia. This market situation is expected to continue for a few weeks until the volume of available product increases again.

Another wholesaler, confirming the same prices, pointed out that as spring progresses and temperatures rise, demand should increase due to higher consumption.

Germany: Sharp price rise
Lime prices have risen sharply from week 12 to week 13 and pack prices are now around 10 euros/4.5kg. The Tahiti variety from Brazil is currently available in sufficient quantities and demand is gradually increasing. Later in the season, Mexican Persian Limes and Tahiti from Colombia will also be offered to supplement this. In late summer and August-September, Spanish limes have also been gaining in importance in recent years.

According to one specialised wholesaler, the German lime market is experiencing 'healthy growth'. "The basic demand is increasing from year to year, especially in summer. You can see that class II is also being used more and more frequently, a sign that the product is gaining in importance."

Netherlands: Lime market shows improvement
"The lime market has been improving over the past two weeks, with fewer shipments from Brazil and increasing demand in Europe. The new harvest has just begun, and as it stands, there appears to be an ample supply of limes available. Therefore, we do not anticipate shortages in the coming months," stated a Dutch importer.

France: Brazil dominates
"Unsurprisingly, the dominant variety on the market today is the Brazilian lime, since Brazil has become the EU's main supplier, and because it is rare to find Mexican limes in France in March.

While lime prices can fluctuate suddenly and regularly, they currently sell for up to €7.20 for air imports and €2.50 on average for boat imports. On the demand side, cool temperatures are not currently favoring demand, which should increase as temperatures rise," stated an importer and trader in France.

Spain: Lack of supply leads to high lime prices
In general, a lack of limes supply has been observed in the Spanish market, hence the high prices at the beginning of the year. Afterwards the market has balanced itself out, returning to more adjusted prices. More recently, as a result of the lack of product availability from Brazil, the market has heated up again, so importers anticipate that in the coming weeks the prices from the beginning of the year will be reached again. The market situation is not expected to change at least until June.

Israel: Light volume of lime available
A large exporter notes they only have light volumes of limes available in Israel from their own production in the country, with no exports. "In the past we have done light volumes."

North America: lime prices stayed surprisingly soft in March
The North American lime market continues to have an unusual year. Going into March, the pricing trajectory on Mexican limes was down – something that hasn't been seen in a long time. March is usually the tightest supply and highest demand month price-wise and that trend often continues into April. However, this year March never hit the anticipated peak pricing.

Instead, it's expected that this pricing trend will continue into April. In years past, pricing spikes would hit between $40-$60 in March and be followed by a dramatic collapse to the high teens and $20s in April-May. Instead, rather than that sharp drop, pricing is expected to steadily decline and possibly settle into the $20s.

As for fruit sizing, some regions are producing larger counts of 110, 150 and 175 fruit while other areas have fruit sized 230, 250 which is also indicating a bit of a "hill" on pricing.

Along with Mexico, fruit is coming from offshore sources such as Colombia and Peru. Meanwhile demand so far in 2024 does seem a little lighter than in 2023.

South Africa: Limes are "a dead loss"
AB Inbev has financed its own lime production in South Africa as part of a black economic empowerment project in Limpopo, in partnership with a major citrus producer in the province, to secure a consistent supply to meet the growing demands for Corona beer. Previously, the company says, it had been forced to import limes.

These lime orchards, among the largest in the country, were planted 2.5 years ago. The brewer will take weekly volumes and if there are any left over, those could be exported, predominantly to Western Europe, in future. However, lime exports are challenging: green limes turn yellow during the voyage.

On a Gauteng municipal market, a trader says that in his opinion, limes are "a dead loss". It's a terrible market, he remarks, with a lot of limes available. Small limes can barely be sold and the market is currently saturated. Wholesale limes are an extremely volatile proposition, even by fresh produce standards.

A producer agrees that since December the market hasn't been good: limes have been imported and, while the normal South African production was high, demand is not.

Lime prices have at times been very good, prompting imports from Brazil.

Next week's topic: Strawberries