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Limes through Texas big part of Brooks Tropicals’ offerings

For 85 years, Brooks Tropicals has grown and sold tropical fruits from its South Florida headquarters. Charlie Brooks took the foray into agriculture when the real estate market was difficult in the 1920s, and the company has been on an upward swing ever since.

Over the years, the grower-shipper greatly expanded its South Florida acreage and also added land in other tropical locations around the Caribbean. Today, headquartered in Homestead, FL, Brooks Tropicals LLC, farms more than 4,000 acres, and harvests more than 70 percent of what it sells. In an area called the Redlands just south of Miami, the company grows SlimCado avocados. On the Florida west coast, starfruit is the main crop. In the Central American country of Belize, Brooks grows, packs and ships Caribbean Red papayas. Twenty other tropical fruits and vegetables are imported into the North American market from 15 countries in Central and South America.

High on the list are Persian limes. “We source approximately 90 percent of our limes from Mexico and their supply is the main driver for North America,” said Peter Leifermann, director of sourcing and sales for the firm.   “We have a decades-long relationship with our Mexican grower and cross container loads through McAllen (Texas) weekly throughout the year. The remaining 10 percent of our supply comes from Colombia, Honduras, and Guatemala.”

This year has been an interesting one as prices have been off the charts. Though acknowledging the very high prices, Leifermann said it is not unusual for limes to be extremely expensive during this time of year.

Weather in Mexico’s lime producing region has been the culprit this year as it has in past year. Winter weather is fickle and can play havoc with crops even in tropical and semi-tropical regions. The Brooks executive told The Produce News on Thursday, April 24, that “prices have begun to moderate on the smaller-sized fruit and the downward trend should continue slowly over the next two months.”

Brooks only sells Persian limes but Leifermann said the high prices have caused some consumers to look for alternatives including Key limes. “They are typically viewed as two entirely different commodities even though they have similar characteristics,” he said. “Many consumers use them interchangeably, especially when Persian limes are not readily available. However, there is only one way to make a key lime pie,” he quipped.

He said a few other citrus fruits such as Uniq fruit and Ortanique from Jamaica are finding their ways into cocktails and recipes where the citrus flavor is a key ingredient. He added that bottled lime juice is probably also noting a spike in sales.

Leifermann said the high f.o.b. price has also given other sources an opportunity to expand their marketing reach. “Globally, it has allowed for Brazil to export record numbers of limes to both Canada and Europe, and shippers in Colombia, Honduras and Guatemala have all reaped the benefits. We’ve even seen an increase in limes from the Dominican Republic. I suspect the balance of power will remain in Mexico though.”

As the summer approaches and limes become a bit more plentiful, Brooks will offer a new pack for the first time. The firm will offer a two-pound bag, packed to order with 17 bags per carton.