BUSINESS
05/14/2014 11:05 EDT | Updated 07/14/2014 05:59 EDT

Drug Cartel's Battle For Limes Puts The Squeeze On Bars, Restaurants

For many a slice of lime is just a garnish, but a shortage of the green citrus fruit linked to bad weather, tree worm infestations and a Mexican drug cartel is putting the squeeze on many restaurants and bars in Canada.

Ian Tostenson with the B.C. Restaurant Association says up until a few months ago cases of limes were being sold for $30 to $40.

Now, cases are being sold for up to $200.

Tostenson says weather destroyed this season's lime crop in Florida, forcing suppliers to rely on sources in Mexico.

But poor weather in Mexico and the outbreak of a citrus tree disease called huanglongling hit crops there too, and then a Mexican drug cartel called the Knights Templar stepped in, driving up prices even further.  

"They've had some challenges with weather, but also because of the worldwide shortage, cartels got involved. The drug lords are now controlling the supply to a certain extent in some of the provinces in Mexico."

The green citrus fruits are largely grown in one specific region of Mexico: the state of Michoacán in the country's southwest.

While local militia's backed by the lime farmers have been battling the cartel, the price of limes has been skyrocketing.

Across North America bars and restaurants have been looking for alternatives to the pricey sour squeeze.

At the Red Burrito on Vancouver's Commercial Drive, Marcella Nielsen says a dash of lime is a staple in Mexican cooking.  

But with the cost skyrocketing, recipes are being adjusted, and customers are being offered a squeeze of lemon instead.

"We just tell them that the price went really, really high, so we cannot really provide them limes. So we have to change to lemons or raise our prices. They don't want to pay extra, so we just change it for now," says Nielsen.

"But a lot of customers don't really want lemon...and a lot of them...they say no."

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