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Hard times hit Margaritaville: Prices for limes double after Mexico storms

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SCOTTSDALE – At the Mission, a Mexican food restaurant in Old Town, the salty rims of margaritas are missing something these days: limes.

The fruit has become so pricey that bar manager Michael Bunker has stopped using them as a garnish.

“As far as I know, this is the worst situation it’s been in 50 years,” Bunker said.

The lime, a staple in many of Arizona’s Mexican eateries and grocery stores, has doubled in price over the last two months after heavy fall storms in Mexico knocked blooms from trees.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, grocery stores were selling limes at an average of 53 cents each last week, up from 21 cents each in the same week last year.

As for 40-pound cases sold to Bunker’s restaurant, prices have jumped from $30 to $90, he said.

“It’s been tough. We’ve reduced a lot of our usage of it,” Bunker said.

John Caldwell, general manager for the Arizona division of Vision Produce, the No.1 importer of limes in Arizona, said he’s never seen anything like it.

“We’re experiencing an unprecedented time in lime supply over the last 50 years,” Caldwell said.

Colin Fain, the CEO of Agronometrics, a startup that analyzes agricultural data, said the spread of citrus greening disease in Mexico is contributing to the high lime prices. The disease, spread by a fly-like insect called the Asian citrus psyllid, causes misshapen fruit that doesn’t ripen properly.

“Unfortunately there’s not a whole lot that can be done. I mean, most of this is due to the weather or other factors that are beyond human control,” he said.

Mark Damato, senior vice president of retail sales at Peddler’s Son Produce, a Phoenix wholesaler, said that while prices are high, that doesn’t mean people have stopped buying limes or using them to cook.

“A restaurant has to have if they have a bar. Grocery chains don’t want to be without them,” he said. “It’s pretty much a staple item.”

Back at the Mission, tacos have also taken a hit. Rather than serving two lime slices with every taco, now it only serves one.

“We’ve rationed out what we can,” Bunker said.