What I Learned About Maple Syrup on the West Coast

I have been lucky enough to travel out west a couple times in the last month.  We mixed visiting friends and family with maple syrup business.  I have five key points I learned from my visit out west.

1) The demand for maple syrup out west is tremendous.

I spent some time in San Diego, Portland Oregon, and a little time in Seattle.  I’m doing my thing: qualify the market and customers.  I ask lots of questions to restaurant owners, distributors, grocery managers, and customers.  The market price for maple syrup is significantly higher out west.  Especially for ORGANIC bulk maple syrup.

The lines outside the Portland Oregon breakfast spots were long.  I asked one patron, “is it always like this?”  His response was, “demand exceeds supply” – referring to the number of breakfast locations.  There was a 30-45 minute wait at every breakfast spot I visited.

Portland feels like Ohio/PA – without the winter and snow.  It felt like home.  I can see the appeal of living in Oregon.  I can see why consumers in Portland want pure maple syrup.  It fits the culture and lifestyle.

Maple Guy in Portland Oregon

2) The overall quality of maple syrup I tasted was poor.

I think this is an education gap.  On two separate occasions I ordered a meal with pure maple syrup.  The maple syrup was spoiled and fermented.  I believe the restaurateurs are unknowingly buying very low grade commercial maple syrup to reduce cost.  OR the other likely cause is not properly storing an open container of pure maple syrup in the refrigerator.  the distributors need trained – and I plan on doing a lot of training.

Due to this education gap, I don’t even think a lot of consumers out west know what good maple syrup tastes like.  I went to one location that purchased bulk maple syrup and repackaged into smaller jugs – at room temperature.  The problem here is maple syrup needs to be “canned” at 180-190F before repackaging.  I understand why the company is doing this – and I applaud their attempt to reduce their cost.  However, they are doing the maple syrup industry no favors by selling poorly packaged maple syrup.  In Ohio – that would have been shut down by the Ohio Department of Agriculture – and rightfully so.   The regulators out west don’t have any experience with maple syrup!  I do want to point out there is no health danger to the consumer, just the reputation of maple syrup industry.

Think about it.  If you have never had pure maple syrup…and the first time you taste it – it is spoiled and fermented….you’ll have an opinion of maple syrup that is tainted.  Literally.

Well, at least the spoiled maple syrup is organic.  Leading to my next point.

3) The demand for ORGANIC maple syrup is higher than non-certified maple syrup out west.

I saw it with my own eyes.  The lower cost non-certified maple syrup sat on the shelf.  This is hard for some of my maple syrup friends to comprehend as I explain the state of the maple syrup industry 2500 miles away.  There are no ingredients added to the tree sap.  So I can see their point of view.  The difference between organic maple syrup and non-certified maple syrup is $2500-3000/year and a piece of paper.  Regardless, that piece of paper is important to the consumer and we are going to give the consumer what they want.

My advice to maple farmers: stop arguing the merits of organic versus non-certified maple syrup – just get certified.  I am predicting such a shortfall of organic maple syrup over the next 3-5 years that the bulk price of organic maple syrup will start to separate from non-certified.  The reasons are market driven.  The consumer wants organic maple syrup.  Stop arguing with the consumer if you are a maple syrup farmer.   You don’t buy it – you make it.  Notice I didn’t call it non-organic maple syrup – I call it non-certified.  However, I do think the certification is an investment.  About a $0.25-$0.50/lb incease in your bulk maple syrup value, about $3-$5/gal.

4) If you are selling moldy maple syrup and don’t know it – We’ll help you.

I’m not in the business of pointing out customers’ shortcomings unless they directly ask me my opinion.  However, we are in the business of selling the highest grade maple syrup available and educating.  All it takes is a taste test comparison.  We currently produce some of the the rarest maple syrup blends on the planet – at a very high level.  We taste so much maple syrup, good and bad, that we have become experts.  We are going to share our experience and knowledge with the consumers.  Hopefully, it isn’t too late.  Hopefully there aren’t a bunch of people out there that have been ruined by a bad experience of consuming mersh (hipster-maple-farmer-lingo for commercial maple syrup) on their pancakes.

5) Transparency is important to the consumer.

Over the next several months, I’m going to be sharing the maple syrup industry from the inside.  We do some things great as an industry of sugarmakers.  However, we can do even better at sharing our industry in a transparent way.  Today’s consumer wants to know where their food is coming from.  I mean all of the way to the tree’s name.  Like in the Portlandia episode where they have to know the chicken’s name before they eat it.  So they go to the farm and meet the chicken.  Let’s start naming…