ST. PETERSBURG — After days of torrential rains, a weekend overshadowed by St. Petersburg’s First Friday celebrations and a Monday calendar date, this year’s Cinco de Mayo fiestas could have fallen flat. However, a sudden drop in the escalating costs of limes and a break in the storms gave St. Petersburg residents plenty of reasons to celebrate a little early Sunday evening.
Lime prices nationwide have skyrocketed to about 10 times higher than usual since December, creating a shortage of the Mexican staple and leaving restaurants and bars to pick up the tab. However, due to an increase in supply from Mexico, which produces 90 percent of limes in the U.S., and a drastic decrease in sales due to the high cost, U.S. Department of Agriculture data shows a plunge in prices this week from last.
Unrest caused by drug cartels and flooding from heavy rains in the Mexican state of Michoacán led to a reduction in the crop, combined with droughts in California, a 2001 citrus disease that wiped out most lime groves in Florida and a growing demand for tangy garnishes for margaritas, tequilas, tacos and other Mexican specialties. However, now limes in the Mexican state of Veracruz are ripening.
Despite the recent decrease, lime prices are still at historic levels for Cinco de Mayo, averaging around $7 to $8 for a 40-pound box. Businesses will pay an average of $80 to $130 for a case of 200 limes, up from around $15 last year. A single lime in a St. Petersburg Publix Supermarket now costs 79 cents, while the average advertised price of a lime in U.S. supermarkets was 31 cents last year.
“It’s pretty significant, we’re all definitely feeling that increase,” said Dana Carter, manager of Lime Fresh Mexican Grill on 22nd Avenue North in St. Petersburg. However, the citrus-infused restaurant will still offer $2 Coronas, Dos Equis and Modelo beers today with as much lime as desired.
“Customers can absolutely still get plenty of limes here,” Carter said.
“People know to come here for Cinco de Mayo, it’s become a staple and undoubtedly our busiest night of the year,” Jay said. “With the cost of limes we’ve definitely had to be more conscious of our portions, especially this week. But in the end we’re a Mexican restaurant that specializes in Mexican beers and margaritas, so there is only so much we can do to cut back. We’re just bearing the extra burden right now.”
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.