Exporting fresh limes to Europe
Imports of fresh limes to the European market grew by 50% in volume between 2011 and 2015. Further growth is expected as a result of the increasing popularity of limes in food preparation and drinks. Exporters from developing countries can take advantage of these developments and offer alternatives to the dominant supply from Mexico and Brazil.
Contents of this page
- Product definition
- Product specification
- Which European markets offer opportunities for fresh lime exporters?
- Which trends offer opportunities on the European market for fresh limes?
- With which requirements should fresh limes comply to be allowed on the European market?
- What competition will you be facing on the European limes market?
- Which trade channels can you use to put fresh limes on the European market?
- What are end-market prices for limes?
Limes are sour and have a diameter of 42–67 mm for the Persian lime and 25–45 mm for the Key lime. When ripe, limes are green/yellow. They are normally used for flavouring (including the skin).
The most commonly produced lime varieties for fresh consumption are the:
- Persian (or Tahiti) lime (Citrus latifolia), popular because of their seedless nature
- Key (or Mexican) limes (Citrus aurantifolia), a smaller variety containing more seeds, making them less popular for fresh consumption.
Table 1: CN commodity code for fresh limes
Fresh or dried limes ‘citrus aurantifolia, citrus latifolia’
Source: Eurostat Comext
Limes are divided into three classes: Extra Class, Class I and Class II. Information on the quality requirements for each class is available in the:
- Standard for limes (Persian limes)in the Codex Alimentarius (‘food code’ of WHO and FAO)
- Standard for Mexican limes (Key limes) in the Codex Alimentarius
- UNECE standards for citrus fruit
- General Marketing Standards of Regulation (EU) 543/2011.
In all classes the citrus fruit must be:
- free of bruising and/or extensive healed overcuts
- sound; produce affected by rotting or deterioration such as to make it unfit for consumption is excluded
- clean, practically free of any visible foreign matter
- practically free from pests
- free from damage caused by pests affecting the flesh
- free of signs of shrivelling and dehydration
- free of damage caused by low temperature or frost
- free of abnormal external moisture
- free of any foreign smell and/or taste.
The development and condition of the citrus fruit must be such as to enable it to:
- withstand transportation and handling
- arrive in satisfactory condition at the place of destination.
Limes must have reached an appropriate degree of ripeness. In addition to having the proper colour (mostly green), the juice content must be at least 40% for Key limes and 42% for Persian limes.
Conformity must be verified before these goods enter European Community customs territory, except in the case of small lots, which the inspection authorities/bodies consider to be low risk. In certain third countries that have provided satisfactory guarantees of conformity, pre-export inspections may be conducted by local inspection bodies.
Size and packaging
Limes are classified according to Size Codes 1-5:
Diameter (mm) of Persian or Tahiti limes
Diameter (mm) of Key or Mexican limes
Packaging requirements differ by customer and market segment. At the very least, limes must be packed in such a way as to offer proper protection for the produce. The packaging must be new, clean and of a quality that can prevent damage to the product. Talk to your customers about their requirements and preferences with regard to packaging. Common characteristics are:
- wholesale packaging in cardboard boxes or crates
- boxes containing a net weight of 4–4.5 kg, with such normal sized crates/boxes packed for retail with the limes neatly organised in a pattern with the green side up
- boxes with citrus fruit can hold up to 18 kg, with such large boxes destined for clients that repack in nets or trays.
For more information on packaging please see the Recommended International Code of Practice for Packaging and Transport of Tropical Fresh Fruits and Vegetables (CAC/RCP 44-1995).
Non-retail packaging should have the following particulars:
- name and address of exporter, packer and/or dispatcher, identification code (optional)
- name of the produce if the contents are not visible from the outside, name of the variety (optional)
- country of origin and, optionally, district where grown or national, regional or local place name
- class, size (size code or minimum and maximum diameter in mm), net weight (optional)
- official inspection mark (optional).
In addition, the label should include any certification logo or retailer logo (in the case of private-label products). A list of ingredients is not mandatory for fresh fruit, unless the container is filled with several different products, in which case the label should include a list of contents, as well as the quantities of each product.
See also the European Regulation No 543/2011.
General information and figures about production and trade developments in the European market for fresh fruits and vegetables are provided on the CBI Market Intelligence Platform. This section provides detailed statistics on the trade and consumption of fresh limes in Europe.
Increasing imports from developing countries
Imports of fresh limes to the European market have increased from 88 thousand tonnes in 2011 to 131 thousand tonnes in 2015. Practically all imports of fresh limes originate in developing countries, principally Brazil and Mexico.
Source: Market Access Database
60% import growth in the Netherlands
Between 2011 and 2015 imports to the Netherlands increased by 60%. With 95 thousand tonnes imported, the Netherlands is the largest importer of limes of all European and non-European suppliers combined. This is a direct result of a growing demand in the Netherlands and surrounding countries supplied by the Netherlands.
Significant imports from developing countries to the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and Belgium
The Netherlands, the United Kingdom and Belgium have relatively large import volumes from developing countries. The United Kingdom is an end market that you can supply directly. Belgium and the Netherlands are typical entry points into greater Europe. Most of this import comprises seedless Persian limes, mainly from Brazil and Mexico. New suppliers from developing countries are emerging, such as Vietnam, Guatemala, Colombia and Peru.
Source: ITC Trademap
The Netherlands are positioned as an important trade hub
In 2015, the Netherlands re-exported over 58 thousand tonnes of limes to Germany, France and other countries. Germany’s first export destination for limes is Italy, in the same way that Belgium principally exports to France.
- The Netherlands is by far the largest European trade hub for fresh limes in Europe. Find your importer there, and supply Europe through one partner.
Northern Europe is the main destination
Major destination countries include Germany, France and the United Kingdom. Northern Europe is very relevant for lime export, because consumption is high. Eastern European markets such as Romania and Bulgaria are still small, but they are experiencing strong growth. These latter markets often depend on re-exported limes.
Source: ITC Trademap
CBI Trend mapping provides information on general trends in the European market for fresh fruits and vegetables. This section provides details about specific trends in the fresh lime market.
Limes are becoming popular as ingredient in food and drinks
Limes are generally used for flavouring meals, and they are becoming increasingly popular in combination with tropical drinks or cocktails. Consumers are becoming more familiar with limes and the growth in the European market for fresh limes is expected to continue. The demand for limes is strongest during the European summer.
Sales of all seedless fruit varieties are increasing, in anticipation on consumer preferences for convenient, easy-to-use produce. The same applies to seedless limes, which are easier to squeeze and mix. The demand for seedless limes is strongest in western Europe.
- Discuss the potential of your lime variety with an experienced importer. If possible, choose the most popular seedless variety.
Growing interest in sustainable fruit
In Europe, trends are developing towards more sustainable approaches to the production and processing of fresh fruit. Environmental and social issues are becoming increasingly important. Social and environmental certification schemes include actions aimed at sharply reducing and registering the use of pesticides, taking action to ensure the safety of employees and/or even including price guarantees for producers. Certification schemes that are in line with the Global Social Compliance Programme (GSCP) are more likely to be accepted by European supermarkets.
- Consult the Global Social Compliance Programme (GSCP) website for more information about social and environmental conduct.
The increased attention to health and the environment is also generating interest in organically produced fruit and vegetables. Limes constitute a niche product used as an ingredient or flavouring. Because the skin of the fruit is used as well, consumers are more likely to want organically produced limes. Organic limes are more and more in demand.
- Read more about organic farming on the Soil Association website.
Buyer requirements can be divided into (1) musts (requirements you must meet in order to enter the market), such as legal requirements, (2) common requirements (which are those most of your competitors have already implemented), the ones you need to comply with in order to keep up with the market, and (3) niche market requirements, for specific segments.
The food safety requirements for fresh limes are the same as for other fresh fruit and vegetables. You can find a complete overview in and at the:
- general buyer requirements for fresh fruit and vegetables
- Export Helpdesk that provides an overview of export requirements for fresh limes (codes 08055090) per country.
With which legal and non-legal requirements must your product comply?
Minimise pesticide residues
Pesticide residues constitute a crucial issue for suppliers of fruits and vegetables. With the aim of avoiding health and environmental damage, the European Union has set maximum residue levels (MRLs) for pesticides in and on food products. Products containing more pesticides than allowed will be withdrawn from the European market. Note that buyers in several countries such as the United Kingdom, Germany, the Netherlands and Austria set MRLs that are stricter than those specified in European legislation.
- Find out which MRLs are relevant for fresh limes by consulting the European MRL database in which all harmonised MRLs can be found. You can search for your product or the pesticide used. The database has a list of the MRLs associated with your product or pesticide.
- Reduce the amount of pesticides by applying integrated pest management (IPM) in production. IPM is an agricultural pest control strategy that includes growing practices and chemical management.
- Read more about MRLs at the EU Export Helpdesk. Check with your buyers if they have any additional requirements regarding MRLs and pesticide use.
Comply with phytosanitary requirements
Fruit and vegetables exported to the European Union must comply with European legislation on plant health. The European Commission has laid down phytosanitary requirements to prevent the introduction and spread of organisms harmful to plants and plant products in Europe. These requirements are managed by the competent food safety authorities in the importing and exporting countries.
- Verify with the national plant protection organisation or food safety authority in your country if and under which conditions you can export fresh limes to Europe. These authorities normally work with international standards, but always check with your buyer as well.
Read more about plant health at the EU Export Helpdesk.
Which additional requirements do buyers often have?
GlobalG.A.P. and other certification as guarantee [H4]
Since food safety is a top priority in all European food sectors, you can expect most buyers to request extra guarantees from you in the shape of certification.
The most commonly requested certification for fresh limes is GLOBALG.A.P., a pre-farm-gate standard that covers the whole agricultural production process, from before the plant is in the ground to the non-processed product (processing is not covered). Whether GLOBALG.A.P. is required also depends on the destination country, market conditions and market channel. For example, it has become nearly impossible to supply northern Europe without GLOBALG.A.P., since it is a standard requirement for most supermarkets.
Examples of other food safety management systems that can be required are:
- British Retail Consortium (BRC)
- International Food Standard (IFS)
- Food Safety System Certification (FSS22000)
- Safe Quality Food Programme (SQF).
These management systems are supplemental to GLOBALG.A.P. and are recognised by the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI).
- Identify the food-safety management systems that are usually requested in your target market. Expect GLOBALG.A.P. to be one of them.
- Read more on the various food-safety management systems at the Standards Map website.
- Always remember that food safety is a major issue. Work proactively with buyers to improve food safety, taking care to be transparent and to remain up to date with regard to buyer requirements and regulations.
What do niche markets require?
Growing demand for organic limes
An increasing number of European consumers prefer food products that are produced and processed using natural methods. The market for organic limes is relatively small, but with limited supplies. In order to market organic products in the European Union, you must use organic production methods according to European legislation. Furthermore, you have to use these production methods for at least two years before you can market your fresh limes as organic.
In addition, you (or your European importer) must apply for an import authorisation from organic control bodies. After being audited by an accredited certifier, you may put the European organic logo on your products, as well as the logo of the standard holder, for example:
- Soil Association (especially relevant in the United Kingdom)
- Naturland (Germany)
- Bio Suisse (Switzerland).
Some of these standards differ slightly, but they all comply with the European legislation on organic production and labelling.
- Implementing organic production and becoming certified can be expensive, so assess the market potential before making any investments.
- Consult the Standards Map database for information about the various organic certifications.
- For the export of organic limes to the European market, use a specialised importer, who understands the market and has access to niche markets with their particular requirements. Use, for example, the Organic-Bio database.
Fair and sustainable
There is growing attention for the social and/or environmental conditions in the producing areas. Most European buyers have a social code of conduct which they will expect you to adhere to. For fresh limes social compliance is important, although in day-to-day trade product quality has top priority. A few specialised buyers provide extra opportunities for socially certified products.
Buyer initiatives which have impact on you as a supplier in terms of social compliance are the:
- Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) in the United Kingdom
- Business Social Compliance Initiative (BSCI) in north-western Europe
- Global Social Compliance Programme (GSCP) providing reference and self-assessment tools.
Examples of social or sustainable labels for fresh fruit and vegetables are:
For general information about market competition for fresh fruits and vegetables, consult the Market Competition information available at the CBI market intelligence platform. The platform also includes Tips for doing business with European buyers.
This section provides information about the competition of the European fresh limes market.
The current market for limes is growing, and additional growth is expected, although there is a limit to the amount of produce that can be absorbed. Changes in supply due to weather conditions and better harvests can have serious consequences for prices.
Almost all of the fresh limes imported into the European market in 2015 originated from Brazil (76 thousand tonnes) and Mexico (48 thousand tonnes). Limes from Mexico are usually air-freighted. Together, these two countries accounted for 94% of the import volume. If one of these main supplying countries is unable to fulfil the demand due to climatic difficulties or other circumstances, opportunities for suppliers from other countries will increase. To profit as an alternative or new supplier you must deliver top quality.
Among the emerging suppliers are Colombia, Vietnam, Thailand, Guatemala, Honduras and Peru, each with increasing exports to Europe of 500–3000 tonnes in 2015.
- Try not to compete on price alone, instead building partnerships with buyers and striving for excellence in product quality and handling.
The buyer power of large supermarkets is very strong, and buyer requirements are very important. Buyers in Europe tend to prefer long-term partnerships as a means of ensuring the supply and quality of products. When there is sufficient supply, expect large retailers to have more influence on the supply chain.
Certification and the need to meet both legal and non-legal requirements pose major obstacles to producers and exporters entering the market. Nevertheless, the continued growth in the European import market offers opportunities, including for producers from countries other than Brazil and Mexico.
- Establish a credible track record of providing transparent information on your company and product quality. Being part of a stable partnership and a trustworthy supplier can help you to establish and maintain your position in the market.
- Prices for limes fluctuate strongly throughout the year. Find continuity in sourcing programmes supplying European retail.
Limes are used in food or drinks. In some food applications, lemons are used as substitutes for limes. This makes lemons the main competing fruit for your limes.
- Use storytelling (highlight for example the origin and producer of your products), novel packaging and premium quality as methods for distinguishing your product from the rest of the field.
For general information about market channels and segments, consult the Market Channels and Segments document available at the CBI market intelligence platform. This section provides information about the various channels through which fresh limes are marketed in Europe.
Different market channels throughout Europe
The composition of market channels differs within Europe. Northern countries such as Germany, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Belgium have a highly dominant retail channel. France and Spain go one step further with large hypermarkets, alongside smaller specialist shops. Countries in the Alpine region (e.g. Switzerland and Austria) are more favourably disposed towards small local shops.
Branding of limes
Importers/distributors differ in their relationships with the retail sector. Some are suppliers for private-label products, while others have their own brands or market the brands of specific producers (cooperation). Branding can help establish your company in Europe, but limes can also be sold without a brand name or under private labels in shops and supermarkets.
Food service is an important segment for limes
Because limes are popular in tropical drinks and as an ingredient in meals, the food service industry and restaurants are an important segment. The food service industry is often supplied indirectly through wholesalers.
Figure 4: Consumer price breakdown for limes
The product value of limes has been in an upward trend for several years. Price fluctuations and risk should always be considered with regard to niche products, including limes. The European market is heavily dependent upon two leading suppliers, Brazil and Mexico. If one of these countries were to experience climatic difficulties, prices can change quickly, offering opportunities for exporters that can supply good quality.
In supermarkets, consumer prices vary from around €0.50 up to €1.00 apiece. Prices are lower at street markets, and organic limes can be sold for approximately 50–100% more in shops.
- Find information about current lime prices at the fresh fruit portal. Be aware that these prices are indicative wholesale prices and actual sales prices may deviate.
- For consumer prices, consult the online shops or ranges of supermarket chains, including Tesco, Albert Heijn (search for ‘limoen’) and Carrefour (search for ‘citron vert’).
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