Delano-based Paramount Citrus Association, California’s largest independent grower-shipper-marketer of fresh citrus, is about to take a market reverberating plunge into limes.

Paramount Citrus charges into the lime market

Paramount has committed to buying 9,500 acres – nearly 15 square miles -- of lime groves in the southern Mexican state of Tabasco, said David Krause, president.

“Our hope and intent is that we would by the first week of May be in possession of the property,” he said.

Paramount owns more than 30,000 producing acres of navels, valencias, minneolas, pomelos, grapefruit and clementines in California and since 2008, 6,000 acres of lemons in Mexico, which make Paramount that country’s largest producer of fresh lemons.

The new Mexican acreage will make Paramount the largest vertically integrated provider of Persian limes in North America, Krause said.

“This is probably one of the most strategic acquisitions that we’ve made,” he said. “We’re very excited about it.”

Once a commodity sold mainly to foodservice, limes are growing in popularity among shoppers. In addition to Latin dishes, limes are a staple in Thai, Vietnamese and Middle Eastern cultures.

“What we’re seeing and showing is that our market research – where we’re really trying to understand the consumer and the customers’ needs – is telling us just where to go,” Krause said. “We feel this is just a perfect opportunity what with growing consumption, strong ethnic growth as a food ingredient plus foodservice.”

The Delano staff will handle sales of the limes, which Krause said fit very well into Paramount’s marketing program.

“This is a huge foodservice piece, but we also see tremendous opportunity in the retail sector where they’ve had trouble with continuity of supply,” he said. “By being a vertically integrated grower, we’re going to be able to smooth that out and control the process.”

The lime groves will not quickly be at peak production. The trees are of various ages and quality, Krause said, and will be in varying stages of production for a few years.

“The limes haven’t been farmed to anywhere near our standards,” he said. “We’ll go in with our cultural playbook, rejuvenate the property and bring it up to Paramount standards. 

Within five years, we expect to have all the acreage in peak production.”

In the final stages of construction at Paramount’s lemon operation in Mexico is a new 100,000 sq. ft. packing facility that also will pack the limes. The packinghouse is conveniently located en route to McAllen, Texas, through which the fruit will pass to the domestic market.

The bacterial disease, huanglongbing or HLB, has been detected at several locations in Mexico. Having had a management team operating in the country for a few years and the team’s understanding of the region “give us a huge advantage in combatting the disease,” Krause said.

“It’s a risk anyone growing down in that region is going to have to deal with,” he said. “I don’t want to sound arrogant, but of all the companies in the industry that are suited to deal with the threat of HLB, I feel that our company is best suited.”