How Can Bars and Restaurants Respond to the 2014 Lime Shortage?

 2014 is being called the year of the Great Lime Shortage, and bars and restaurants are scrambling to figure out what to do about the rising costs that have resulted. The fruit is used in popular bar foods like fish tacos, guacamole, ceviche, and Thai food, and while such items can always come off the menu for now, what’s more important to many is how the shortage threatens the fate of the margarita and the famously lime-garnished Corona.

We as a country typically consume 500,000 tons of limes every year, so there’s no way around the fact that this is going to sting. So far, bars are coping with the lime shortage in many ways, from simply breaking the news to patrons to actually offering customers deep discounts for bringing in their own bags of the fruit.

Blame it on the Rain, Among Other Factors

A number of factors have led up to the 2014 lime shortage. This past winter, heavy rains soaked the lime-growing regions of Mexico, causing the harvest to be delayed. Unfortunately, Mexico supplies 97% of the United States’ limes. Ouch.

Part of the problem is that the flooding and high humidity has led to diseased plants and fungal growth. To top it all off, though, some say that drug traffickers are also trying to control lime production, and that this is partly to blame as well. All of this is happening as U.S. lime consumption has actually doubled in the past 18 years, partly due to the fruit’s popularity among many growing ethnic groups. At the same time, domestic lime planting has declined greatly in the past sixty years, unable to compete for land use with what housing developments have required.

Responding to Scarcity with Scarcity

Lime prices have quadrupled this year, with a 40-pound crate now going for $100 wholesale. One small San Francisco Mission District restaurant chain called Tacolicious briefly responded by making its margaritas from pasteurized lime juice – but then abandoned the strategy after just a few days due to the disappointing taste. Rancho Grande Cantina, just outside of Kansas City, sells a lot of Corona and is famous for serving margaritas on tap. “Due to the lime shortage,” signs throughout the establishment warn, “limes will be given only upon request.” When patrons do request lime, servers are still forced to ration out thin slices instead of using the thick, juicy wedges of years past.

Shortage-Inspired Marketing Campaigns

Some have gotten creative and come up with ways to turn the shortage into a profit-boosting opportunity. One proprietor has pulled out all the stops, posting on Facebook and Twitter, “Bring us a bag full of limes and get a crafted cocktail for just 25 cents.” On-location signs remind patrons, “WE WANT YOUR LIMES.” Liquor producer Beam Inc. is also taking advantage of the shortage, trying to turn a profit by pushing its Hornitos Lime Shot flavored tequila as a temporary fix until the fruit is in abundance again. So that’s one Great Lime Shortage of 2014 special you can add to your menu now.

When Life Only Gives You Lemons

Slate assistant editor L.V. Anderson is laughing off all the fuss everyone’s been making. “Lemons,” she advises. “Use lemons. Come on, people, this isn’t rocket science.”

Some might say she has a point. However, while one response to the shortage has been to make margaritas from half lime juice and half Meyer lemon juice, at least one bar patron has been quoted as saying, “using lemon instead of lime in a margarita is like using onions instead of garlic.”

We can always hope and pray for a kinder winter next year. In the meantime, though, when life gives you hardly any limes, what else can one do besides figure out how to make some kind of lemonade instead?

Josh Saunders