Food & Beverage

The market crash you'll be excited about


Olé! After several weeks of sky-high prices, lime consumers have something to cheer about: a crash in the market for the tart fruit.

Prices originally started their climb upward in December due to various factors, including bad weather in Mexico and a citrus disease that hit crop production.

This week's sharp move lower comes amid increased supply from Mexico, where the majority of fruit consumed in the U.S. originates, experts said. Falling demand has also contributed to the recent easing.

Last week, Vision Import Group was selling limes for $60 to $70 for a 40-lb. box, said Raul Millan, the company's executive vice president. On Friday, prices averaged $40.

Limes are displayed at Cal-Mart Grocery on March 27, 2014 in San Francisco.
Getty Images

"They're coming down tremendously," Millan said. "It's basically a crash. We're hoping that it reaches a floor here soon and stabilizes soon around the $25 range."

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Meanwhile, wholesaler Coast Tropical is also seeing price plummet, falling as low as $30 from last week's range of $60 to $90, said Mary Velasquez, the company's general manager.

"They're starting to come down to where they should be," Velasquez said. "Now, today, the small limes are coming down drastically. They're being quoted as low as $30."

USDA data reflects a drastic plunge in prices this week from last week and even more so from two weeks ago.

The move comes ahead of the Super Bowl equivalent for the lime industry – Cinco de Mayo, when restaurants and bars see a spike in traffic.

Despite the drop, prices remain at many multiples of historic levels for Cinco de Mayo weekend, where they have averaged around $7 to $8 for a 40-pound box, importers said.

So far, restaurants interviewed by CNBC say they've yet to see prices fall.

For Rosa Mexicano, a chain with 15 locations domestically, prices have tripled and remain at all-time highs. Since Rosa does not buy directly from an importer and instead gets limes from local produce suppliers, its CEO Tom Dillon said it could be four to six weeks before his company sees any benefit from the price crash.

"That much of a cost increase is significant to us," said Dillon, adding that it's added about two percentage points to its cost of sales.

Meanwhile, Margaritas Mexican Restaurant is still paying prices that are up to six times what it had been paying just a few months ago, said Michael Caldwell, the New England chain's marketing team leader.

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These all-time highs are especially noteworthy since they've hit during its busiest period of the year—the days leading up to and including Cinco de Mayo.

So far, the price surge has boosted food costs, though it hasn't had a drastic effect yet. Although Caldwell said he's heard that other restaurants are increasing prices or changing recipes, he hasn't followed suit yet.

"We didn't want to do either of those things," he said. "We didn't want to pass along those costs to the customer. We certainly didn't want to adjust the recipe. For the most part, we're eating the cost."

Dillon echoed this hesitancy to tinker with recipes.

"The only thing we're really doing is before we would automatically bring limes if you order say a glass of sparkling water, and now we will ask you if you would like lime," he said.