TAMPA — Organizers of the Tampa Bay Margarita Festival ordered 10,000 limes last year.
The fruit somehow was incorporated into every drink served to the more than 5,000 festival attendees.
But organizers aren’t sure how many limes — if any — they’ll be able to afford this year.
“That’s probably going to be reconsidered,” said Ferdian Jap, a partner with Big City Events, the company that organizes the Tampa Bay Margarita Festival, set for the end of May.
Lime prices are soaring as local distributors and consumers feel the effects of a nationwide shortage. Some Tampa restaurants and bars are switching to lemons when feasible, and others reluctantly pay inflated prices for the fruit, which distributors say are about 10 times higher than usual.
“In all my life I’ve never seen (prices) that high,” said John Sansone, owner of Tampa Bay Farmers Market in South Tampa.
A package of about 150 normal-size limes now costs $125, and a package of about 250 smaller limes cost $110 on Wednesday morning, he said. Normally, limes cost $12 a box this time of the year.
His produce market has few limes available because customers aren’t willing to pay the high prices. “It’s outrageous,” Sansone said.
Growers in the Mexican state of Michoacán are supplying fewer limes because of unrest caused by drug cartels and flooding from heavy rains. That, combined with drought in California and a growing demand for limes for margaritas, tacos and other dishes, has driven up prices to a three-year high.
The average advertised price of a lime in U.S. supermarkets was 56 cents last week, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That was up from 37 cents the week ending March 28 and 31 cents one year ago.
“Because there’s not as much, it is purely a supply-and-demand issue,” said Brian West, a spokesman for Publix Super Markets. “But it has driven the price to an all-time high.”
Publix stores still are stocking limes, he said, but officials are forecasting the high prices will last through May.
“It happens in all different kinds of products,” said John Delaney, a sales representative at the Tampa Wholesale Produce Market, which supplies restaurants and produce markets in the area. “You’ll have stuff spike.”
The lime shortage and resulting high prices have caused some airlines — for now — to stop offering the fruit in their beverage service.
Alaska Airlines, which goes through about 900 limes a day, stopped serving them about two weeks ago because of skyrocketing prices, a spokeswoman said. United Airlines has made do with lemons on some flights, maintaining the California drought has limited its lime supply.
Jap said his company is exploring the cost of using fresh lime juice at the margarita festival rather than whole limes. Because of the prices, limes were absent from Big City Events’ Spring Beer Fling, which was held downtown in late March.
“Hopefully,” Jap said of the shortage, “it kind of levels out of it.”
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.