High stakes in the maple syrup business

Thievery, skyrocketing prices and a powerful cartel? Your pancake topping is filled with intrigue.

By MSNMoney partner Dec 26, 2012 1:36PM

Maple syrup (Amy Riley/E+/Getty Images)
License: RF
Image Name: MapleSyrupTree_122612_RF_300By Bruce Kennedy

Imagine one country quietly controlling 70% of a globally desired resource, a commodity whose growing demand and higher prices have made related stocks vulnerable to multimillion-dollar acts of fraud.

This isn't petroleum or some red herring in a spy novel. It's maple syrup. And the Canadian province of Quebec holds nearly all the cards in its production.

The Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers is a cartel. "It's like OPEC," Simon Trépanier, the federation's acting general manager, recently told The New York Times. "We're not producing all the maple syrup in the world. But by producing 70 to 78%, we have the ability to adjust the quantity that is in the marketplace."

The production of maple syrup is very labor intensive and requires just the right weather conditions. Freezing nights and above-freezing days are needed to get the sap flowing properly in mature maple trees, which are tapped for about six weeks in spring. It takes about 40 gallons of maple sap to produce one gallon of syrup. 

In 2008, after several years of poor harvests and increasing international demand -- the U.S., Japan and Germany are big fans of maple syrup -- the federation started what it calls the Global Strategic Maple Syrup Reserve, which Trépanier says holds about 46 million pounds of syrup.

"In the long term, supply instability has a negative effect on everyone and harms development and innovation," Serge Beaulieu, the federation's president, said earlier this year. Beaulieu said the reserve has helped manage risk.

The federation says the reserve ensures "that markets receive a continuous supply of syrup, regardless of harvest. Further, it will help to prevent discounted sales and price fluctuations. It provides stability and a secure supply while assuring optimal storage conditions."


Price jumps have been a big issue. Recent warmer winters have played havoc with production in both Canada and northern U.S., particularly in New England, affecting production costs and supply. In 2010, according to the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center, the average price for a gallon of maple syrup was $34 in Vermont, where 80% of sales were made in bulk. In Connecticut, however, where most sales were retail, maple syrup was selling at $70 per gallon.

Bloomberg reports the cost of maple syrup has soared 182% over the past 32 years. Those higher prices have apparently proved irresistible to thieves looking for a sweet target.

Just this month, officials in Quebec made several arrests after a record $18 million in syrup was discovered missing from reserve warehouses. Law officers in the U.S. and Canada are trying to track down and recover what they can before it is consumed.


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Tags: Food
Dec 26, 2012 7:18PM
The middle-man, not the farmers, are getting those high prices.
Dec 26, 2012 7:23PM
Those crazy canucks saturating thier pancakes and waffles to destroy the evidence as fast as possible.
Dec 26, 2012 7:38PM
Well drug cartel south of the boarder and Maple syrup cartel north of the border, our heavy use of drugs and pancakes drive both. Has Holder run any guns north yet! Operation Sticky Fingers!
Dec 26, 2012 8:06PM
Only 182% over the last 32 years???? That is a bargain to the cost of everything else over the last 32 years. 
Dec 26, 2012 7:58PM

Anyone that compares Corn syrup to Maple has got to be from a Red State...Sweet Geezus. Ugh.


Did you hear that Aunt Jemima....??

Dec 26, 2012 8:31PM
Just like every other commodity...we are all being ripped off because there is really no free market.  Between cartels and wall street they will take every cent you have, and make excuses why they do it.
Dec 26, 2012 7:25PM
Oh yes, h!gh fructose corn syrup's sooooooooo much better, NOT !n a M!LL!ON years!
Dec 26, 2012 9:17PM

Here's a little secret ..Quebec imports REAL maple syrup from Vermont and mixes it with their sub-standard product to make it taste good :-)

Dec 26, 2012 8:54PM
Dec 26, 2012 9:42PM

Anyone that doesn't like maple syrup must have some jacked up taste buds, ha! ha!


Dec 27, 2012 9:03AM

Repy to Deerfarmer 450


The best winemaking site on the web is .  I don't use the lemon or spice.

Dec 27, 2012 12:12AM

Did someone back, say what kind of syrup, Jesus said he liked while hanging on the Cross ??

OMG...They do walk among us...

Well guess I'm gonna give up partially on the syrup thing...Wife said she ate Kayro and Corn syrup on pancakes and waffles, when she was a kid..

I've had many Flavored and distilled types of syrups over the years...IHOPs and other Pancake houses used to serve different varieties....

But still like Maple or Partial Maple(cheaper) on my cakes....Molasses is a little rich.

Others I am sure, have their taste too...

But Maple is hardly bland....IMO. 

Dec 26, 2012 7:47PM
d4489-Your taste buds must be dysfunctional----Northern Michigan Maple Syrup is the best with  just alittle dab of Texas Blue Bonnet honey...The right mixture is worth $100/gallon----if you can find it !
Dec 26, 2012 8:23PM
To bad you can`t dry it out and infuse it with pot.Get high and perfume the kitchen,not to worry i`m sure glade will be out with soon with it
Dec 26, 2012 9:52PM

Give me cane sugar syrup, black strap molasses, or Grandma's Molasses added to any thin generic syrup.  Anything but that runny bland maple syrup for this southerner.  Let the Yankee's keep their maple syrup.

Dec 26, 2012 8:00PM

Make your own simple syrup...google for the recipe.  Use pure CANE sugar & add any flavor you want.  Serve it warm/hot over your pancakes, waffles & french toast.

YUMMMMM!  I like mine flavored strawberry!  You can even add fresh/frozen fruit ...smash it a bit before pouring the hot syrup over it.  Refrigerate & use fairly quickly as it will crystallize.

But LOTS better than the stuff sold in grocery stores!

Dec 26, 2012 8:20PM

Blue Ribbon or Steen's cane syrup.  Hot biscuits w/butter, not margarine.  Your mouth will have an orgasm.  Really.


Not to change the subject off of syrup, but Mayhaw jelly works for the orgasm in the mouth also.

Dec 26, 2012 8:07PM
I make elderberry syrup from wild harvested berries.  Not only does it have a delicious, unique flavor it has proven medicinal benefits.  Easy to harvest (and no-cost) and easy to make at home.  Can't say the same for maple syrup.  A better use for maple sap is fermenting it into wine.  No volume loss, easy and cheap to make.  Tastes pretty good too.
Dec 26, 2012 9:39PM
I prefer fruit syrups over maple syrup. Give me blackberry, blueberry, raspberry or strawberry an time over maple syrup.
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