NEW YORK — The latest victim of the lime crisis: Airline passengers might notice the green citrus garnish missing from their vodka tonics or Diet Cokes.
A recent shortage and spike in price has caused some airlines — for now — to stop offering the fruit in their beverage service.
“We temporarily pulled limes about two weeks ago, due to skyrocketing lime prices,” says Alaska Airlines spokeswoman Halley Knigge. She says the airline normally goes through about 900 limes a day.
Lime growers in the Mexican state of Michoacan have reduced their supply because of unrest caused by drug cartels and flooding from heavy rains. That, combined with drought in California and an overall growing demand for limes for margaritas, tacos and other dishes, has driven up prices to a three-year high.
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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’s up from 37 cents the week ending March 28 and 31 cents a year ago.
United Airlines has had to make do with lemons on some flights, saying the California drought has limited its lime supply.
“We still serve limes, though they’re more difficult to source. So, on some flights we’re substituting with lemons,” spokesman Rahsaan Johnson says.
For frequent fliers like Ben Schlappig, author of the travel blog One Mile at a Time, that won’t cut it. “There are lots of cocktails where lemon simply isn’t a substitute for lime,” he says.
One of United’s largest caterers told the airline that it has 15 to 20 percent of the typical lime inventory.
Delta Air Lines and American Airlines both say they haven’t made any changes at this point.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, grocery stores were selling limes at an average of 53 cents during one week last month, up from 21 cents each in the same week last year.
Colin Fain, the CEO of Agronometrics, a startup that analyzes agricultural data, said the spread of citrus greening disease in Mexico is also contributing to the high lime prices.
The disease, spread by a flylike insect called the Asian citrus psyllid, causes misshapen fruit that doesn’t ripen properly.
Experts also say strong fall storms hit at the time Mexico’s lime trees were blossoming, hurting production.
The drug-trafficking group known as the Knights Templar have subjected much of Michoacan, a Pacific Coast state whose fertile fields produce much of the nation’s avocados and limes, to rampant extortion and had co-opted most of its elected leaders. Its criminal influence sparked the formation of armed groups organized to fight it.
Now there are growing signs that those vigilantes are themselves becoming a problem, taking the law into their own hands, killing rivals and at least one mayor, and even allying with the neighboring Jalisco New Generation cartel.
Includes material from Cronkite News Service and McClatchy Foreign Staff