Agriculture is a historically resilient industry, but it has not gone untouched by the COVID crisis. Although some sectors have proven less affected than others, the reverberating effects of supply chain disruptions have been felt even in the most consistent sectors, and lime is no exception.
The pandemic has exposed some vulnerabilities in the overall lime supply chain, which in turn has identified potential opportunities for incorporating value-added products at the processor level. In the end, the crisis will only strengthen the lime industry.
Ag economists expect a CAGR of 3.7% over the next five years (2020-2025) in the worldwide lime market. This increase is due in part to increasing awareness of the health impacts of consuming limes. Also impacting this increase is a reduction in production in the United States, coupled with increasing European demand.
Increasing demand in North America is always good for Latin American producers, who would prefer to take advantage of higher US prices and lower shipping costs vs. shipping to the European markets. With the COVID pandemic still in full swing, however, consumers worldwide have increased their citrus fruit consumption, and are more than willing to pay the increased shipping costs.
Limes, in particular, are high in vitamin C, antioxidants and other nutrients beneficial to your immune system, and low in calories. Some of the well-known benefits may include boosting the immune system, promoting healthy skin, lowering blood pressure, protection against atherosclerosis, prevention of kidney stones, increased iron absorption, and lowering the risk of some types of cancers.
Demand for citrus is exploding in Europe due to bad weather in Spain and lengthening lockdowns across the EU.
Supply Chain Disruptions
Complicating the export scene, however, are disastrous domestic and container market logistics issues. For example, farm certification inspections are decreasing.
Also, fewer producers have received an export permit to Europe because the Perishable Produce Export Certification Agency (PPECB) has suspended its service.
Another supply chain issue this year is that ports are having to deal with increasing staff shortages, so they are not running at full capacity. That means loading delays, fewer cranes in operation, and stranded shipments due to container ships skipping some usual ports.
For many Latin American nations, whose international agriculture markets are still emerging, this supply chain disruption is a worst-case scenario.
Without significant value-added processing taking place locally/regionally, the potential for low quality or spoiled fruit rejected at the receiving point due to the current supply chain disruption is high. The result can be a negative impact on reputation and the potential for the development of consistent export markets. Emerging markets, which generally have not developed beyond the primary sector, will find this especially true.
Value-added ime products include lime juice, lime seed oil, essential oil, extracts, concentrates, purees, fruit powders, lime salt, and lime cordial.
The availability of high-tech packing facilities in the regions of origin can be a make-or-break factor for lime exporters. Packing facilities need equipment that can accurately process for color and diameter, and have adequate cold storage and pre-cooling facilities. Few establishments of this kind exist outside of Mexico and Brazil, and bringing this technology to growing producers like Colombia is a major step forward.
So, with the addition of high-tech packing facilities to local supply chains, limes can be sold domestically or internationally, as the market dictates. If processors are agile and are paying attention to the macro conditions, the supply chain issues many are experiencing now can be mitigated, in part, by the development of the modifications needed to create added-value products.
Growers and processors are used to dealing with the usual shifts in markets and production due to disease, insects, consumer preference, and weather. They must learn, however, from the new lessons that this COVID-19 pandemic has presented. If the reaction is to hunker down, cut expenses, and wait it out, then valuable insight will be lost that could lead to expanded overall product offerings and supply chain integration.
Disruption often creates the impetus companies need to transform, so they are prepared to face future changing market conditions. To miss this opportunity would be a mistake for growers and processors in small emerging economies who are, in fact, poised, because they are small and still quite agile, for the development of new value-added offerings.