From different types to major exporters and importers, here’s everything you need to know about investing in limes.
Limes—along with lemons, oranges, tangerines, citron, and grapefruit—belong to the citrus family of fruits. Originating in Southeast Asia, limes are now grown in tropical and subtropical regions around the world.
Known for their zesty, sour flavor, limes are used in a variety of culinary, medicinal, and household applications and remain in demand year-round. There are around 20 different varieties of limes, the most common of which are:
- Key limes: Key limes— also known as Mexican or West Indian limes—are small, spherical limes that grow in tropical and subtropical regions. Tart and aromatic, key limes are used for desserts, marinades, and drinks garnishes.
- Kaffir limes: These limes are easily recognized by their wrinkled outer skin. Kaffir limes have very little juice, but their fragrant zest and leaves are commonly used in curries and Asian cooking.
- Tahiti limes: If you buy your limes in a supermarket, they are most likely Tahiti limes. The Tahiti lime possesses a thick, richly-colored skin, a milder flavor profile, a larger size, an absence of seeds, and a longer shelf life than other varieties.
Global lime consumption
Consumer demand for limes is rising, driven by a mounting interest in healthy and international foods around the world. Limes, long used in traditional medicines, are packed with vitamin C, antioxidants, and other nutrients. Lime juice and zest are used to flavor traditional dishes from around the world, as well as sauces, dressings, and marinades. Outside the kitchen, they’re a key ingredient in many cocktails and squeezed into water and tea.
Beyond their culinary uses, limes are used to produce lime oil. With astringent and antibacterial properties, lime oil is used topically to treat skin conditions like acne and inflammation. As essential oils become more popular, sales of lime oil have become increasingly significant in the market.
Largest lime consumers
Limes are enjoyed throughout the world, but these regions have traditionally been the largest consumers of limes:
- United States – Fueled in part by a growing Latino population and the rising popularity of Mexican food, America’s appetite for limes continues to climb. U.S. lime consumption has increased tenfold within the last 40 years. In 2019, the U.S. imported a staggering 800,000 metric tons, which represents a 57 percent increase in the last five years.
- Europe – Like the U.S., Europe has recently witnessed a rising demand for limes, growing 33 percent in the last seven years. European countries leading the way in terms of lime imports include Germany, France, the U.K., and Italy, and the trend is projected to continue as more European nations continue to develop an appetite for international food.
The U.S. and Europe may consume the majority of the world’s limes, but there are many other countries that are seeing increasing demand. Some of the other fastest-growing lime import markets include Japan, Russia, and Saudi Arabia.
Biggest lime suppliers
Tahiti limes are grown on lime plantations in countries around the world. These are the most prominent global lime producers:
- Mexico – Much of the world’s commercially grown lime trees are located in Mexico, which produces around 13 percent of the world’s limes. From November 2018 to October 2019, Mexico produced around 2.5 million metric tons of limes, representing $850 million USD in export value. On average, Mexico exports 20 percent of its limes, 90 percent of which goes to the U.S. The seasonal nature of lime production in Mexico and its dominance of the market can cause fluctuations and uncertainty in lime markets; Mexico’s peak season runs from April to October, which causes prices to climb in North America during the winter.
- Brazil – Second only to Mexico, Brazil is one of the world’s largest exporters of limes. In 2019, Brazil produced around 1.5 million metric tons of limes. Brazil primarily exports limes to the Netherlands, where they are then distributed across Europe. As with Mexico, Brazil’s lime production is seasonal: The country’s peak lime season extends from December to July, which causes prices to go up in Europe during the summer.
- Spain: Europe’s largest lime exporter, Spain benefits from proximity to European countries like France, Germany, and the Netherlands, and in 2018, the country produced an estimated 1.1 million metric tons of limes. However, it’s worth noting that Spain faces significant challenges when it comes to lime production. In addition to cooler nights that makes limes vulnerable to yellowing, Spain suffers from high labor costs and limited labor supply, which can make lime production increasingly difficult.
Colombia: An up-and-coming global lime supplier
As global lime consumption soars, Mexico, Brazil, and Spain have been unable to keep pace with demand, creating gaps in the market that other countries are racing to fill. Enter the lime industry’s fastest-growing exporter: Colombia. Potentially outshining other burgeoning lime exporters like Egypt, Vietnam, and China, Colombia nearly quadrupled its lime exports between 2015 and 2019, growing its export value from $6 million to $26 million.
As a lime producer, Colombia benefits from a wide range of climates, altitudes, and soil profiles that allow Colombia to produce and export limes on a year-round basis. The country is also ideally situated to supply both the U.S. and European markets due to its access to both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, meaning it can avoid the additional transportation cost of the Panama Canal’s pricey transit toll.
The country’s rate of lime production shows no signs of stopping. Many of Colombia’s lime plantations were planted around four years ago during the country’s avocado boom. Now that these lime trees are reaching the production stage, the country’s lime exports are forecasted to skyrocket in the next few years.
As Colombia’s lime industry blossoms, the nation has an opportunity to introduce efficiencies and consolidation to the supply chain, with an example being Farmfolio’s own Valle Verde lime packing facility. Designed to help Colombian farms increase the production of export-quality Tahiti lime (which command a higher selling price), the first-of-its-kind lime packhouse has the ability to sort, wash, and pack up to six containers of limes per week.
By maximizing export quality distribution, the Valle Verde packhouse delivers 1,000 tons of export-quality Tahiti limes each month to Europe, the U.S., and the Caribbean each month—and the incredible results speak for themselves. With the success of Valle Verde, Farmfolio continues to develop, acquire, and operate Colombian lime farms to meet rising global demand. These lime farms are subdivided into smaller plots called Land Ownership Titles (LOTs), which we offer to investors seeking to diversify their portfolios with farmland.
Don’t miss out on this incredible opportunity to participate in the global growth of limes and Colombia’s forthcoming position as an industry leader. Click here to learn more about Farmfolio’s lime LOTs.