50 million pounds of maple syrup released from Québec reserves
19:59, 26 November 2021
The Canadian organisation considered the OPEC of the maple syrup market is releasing 50 million pounds of its strategic reserve following an increase in demand combined with an average harvest year.
The 21% uptick in demand was mostly from the United States. This comes as maple syrup – sometimes referred to as “liquid gold” by those in the industry – has grown increasingly popular over the years as an alternative to sugar. The reserve was even the target of a multimillion dollar heist a decade ago.
The Global Strategic Maple Syrup Reserve is held by the Québec Maple Syrup Producers (QMSP), an organisation that sets quotas and bulk prices for the 11,300 individuals who produce maple syrup in the province of Québec, which supplies 72% of the maple syrup consumed worldwide. Another 8% comes from other parts of Canada, while the United States produces the remaining 20%. The total value of maple syrup produced in Canada was C$558m (US $436m) in 2020.
Sap harvest weather-dependent
The 267,000-sq-ft warehouse housing the stockpile is located in Laurierville, Québec. The reserve was first established in 2000 with the goal of stabilising prices while maintaining the sweet spot between supply and demand for maple syrup, a product harvested in spring that is dependent on weather conditions. For a plentiful flow of sap, temperatures at night need to go below freezing (20F) with daytime temperatures above freezing (40F). The entire harvest lasts approximately 10 weeks and starts in the southern part of the province, moving its way up north as the season progresses.
Before being stored in the reserve warehouse, the maple syrup is pasteurised and sealed in sterilised barrels where it can be safely kept for years. The producers don’t get paid until the syrup is sold.
Two years of banner crops
The harvest of 2021 was 133 million pounds, which followed two years of bumper harvests. In 2020, 175 million pounds were produced, and 2019 brought in 159 pounds. More than half of the syrup produced this year has already been exported to the United States.
In a telephone interview with Capital.com, corporate communications director Hélène Normandin said the QMSP’s reserve exists to ensure there will always be enough maple syrup to meet the fluctuating demand.
“It plays a highly strategic role in stock management, because it ensures a constant supply for national and international markets,” Normandin said. “The reserve ensures the supply regardless of the harvest and it stabilises the price. It eliminates price variations from stock shortages or overproduction.”
Millions more taps to be added
There are 50 million maple syrup taps in Québec, and the QMSP plans to add another seven million taps over the next year.
Over the years, some producers of maple syrup have objected to the QMSP’s control over the maple syrup market in Québec, but Normandin says the system works.
“The challenge is to have the perfect inventory. If we have too much it’s a problem, we cannot sell it and pay the producers. If we don’t have enough, we have the risk to miss maple syrup. The challenge is to maintain a good stability of the inventory.”
High profile sticky situation
The value of maple syrup was highlighted after it was discovered that a heist was carried out at the reserve warehouse over a span of several months in 2011 and 2012. More than 9,500 barrels of syrup were stolen with a value of more than $18m Canadian dollars. Thieves transported the barrels to a separate location to siphon out the syrup. At first, they refilled the barrels with water before returning them to the warehouse, but eventually they started returning them empty, which alerted an inspector to the theft. Numerous arrests were made.
The entertainment industry has taken note of maple syrup’s allure. The Netflix documentary series Dirty Money featured the theft story in an episode called “The Maple Syrup Heist” (2018). The CBS TV sitcom Mom also used maple syrup in a plotline in an episode called “Sticky Hands and a Walk on the Wild Side” (2016) that showed the main characters successfully smuggling a barrel of maple syrup over the border to make a profit.
Hollywood glamour aside, the appeal of maple syrup is a homespun tradition for Canadians.
“For us Québeckers and Canadian people, it’s almost in our veins,” Normandin says. “It’s cultural. Maple syrup is part of us. Every family has a story about maple syrup.”