Love maple syrup? Thieves do, too

In what's turning out to be a great year for production, bad guys are targeting this new liquid gold.

By Aimee Picchi Apr 9, 2013 7:25AM

Maple syrup (© Amy Riley/E+/Getty Images)
For most people, maple syrup evokes thoughts of freshly cooked pancakes and plates laden with waffles. But for a few others, the delicious sap conjures up plans for larceny. 

A crime wave is striking New England maple producers, with thefts of pricey equipment and even sap illegally siphoned from sugar maples.

Driving the rise in maple syrup crime is a jump in syrup prices, making it a new liquid gold. With prices near $40 a gallon, that's more than eight times what maple syrup fetched in 1960, according to data provided by the Vermont Maple Sugar Makers Association. That makes it pricier than crude oil (which costs about $2.25 per gallon).

On top of that, 2013 is turning out to be a great year for maple sugar producers, with more typical late winter conditions of cold nights and warm days boosting sap flow. 

"We're in some rough economic times in some parts of the country, and some people are trying to do whatever they can to do to get by," Matt Gordon, the executive director of the Vermont Maple Sugar Makers Association, told MSN moneyNOW. 

With the industry growing and investing in new technology to boost production, "there is more infrastructure that people could steal, and it's often in remote locations, where no one is watching," Gordon added.

That happened to Denny Lewis of Williston, Vt., who suffered the loss of thousands of dollars of sugaring equipment this winter, according to WCAX, a Vermont TV station. Among the items taken were a filter press and a vacuum pump, among the high-tech innovations that are making sugaring more efficient. 

Such new technology, such as tubing that carries the sap from the trees and into the sugar shacks, have helped boost production of maple syrup. The New England maple sugar industry now produces a crop that's valued at more than $62 million, or almost double the value from just a decade ago, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

That's causing some thieves to see gold in the unprocessed maple sap. Some property owners in Maine, the second-largest U.S. syrup producer after Vermont, have reported holes bored in their trees, with miscreants trying to siphon off the clear sap, according to the Ottawa Citizen.

But it takes a lot more than just tapping a tree to produce the fragrant syrup, with 40 gallons of the clear liquid required to boil down to one gallon of the amber-colored liquid. 

While imitation maple syrup such as Pinnacle Foods' (PF) Mrs. Butterworth's might get the color right, they often fall short of the original flavor. Fake maple syrup such as Pepsico's (PEP) Aunt Jemima also costs a fraction of the real thing, going for about $3 for a 24-ounce container

"It's thought that maple syrup is a money-making opportunity, but it's just a perception," said Gordon of the Vermont Maple Sugar Makers Association. "It's incredibly hard to make a profit."

But nothing in the U.S. this year comes close to the $18 million maple syrup heist in Canada last year. Thieves made off with a portion of the country's global strategic maple syrup reserve. Details are still getting sorted out, but 23 people have been arrested in connection with the crime, according to Vermont's Seven Days.

Maple syrup has another attribute that could make it appealing to thieves: It has a shelf life that can be measured in years. 

"If it's packed right off the production line," Gordon says, "it'll keep for a long, long time."

Aimee Picchi owns shares of Pepsico, which she hasn't bought or sold in more than 12 months. She's also a resident of Vermont, an occasional writer for Seven Days and pours only pure maple syrup on her pancakes. Follow her on Twitter at @aimeepicchi.

More on moneyNOW

Apr 9, 2013 9:46AM
According to the news, the economy is wonderful and life is rosy, and everyone is back to work, and no one would need to resort to stealing. I think this shows just how bad things are. I hope they find the thieves and prosecute them. This is a limited commodity and one that is cherished by anyone who has ever tasted the difference between the imitation garbage we receive and the real syrup.
Apr 9, 2013 12:19PM
Vermont maple syrup is not just a fine product.......its a tradition.......salt of the earth dairy farmers created and labor intensely spirited the growth of this tradition for hundreds of years, turning it into an industry.  its not just about boiling down 40 gallons of sap .......for a gallon of meant maintaining his sugar bush and equipment......stockpiling 10 to 20 cords of firewood to render the sap gathered twice a day with a horse and sleigh [before pipe lining].  canning and marketing his product.  my fond memory of freshly baked raised doughnuts served with sugar on snow....and apple cider was a treat  thats pretty hard to match.  i live 8 miles away from maple grove farms in St. Johnsbury vermont [the leading maple products producer].......and my christmas gifts to out-of-state friends of fine maple products has always brought raving reviews' of appreciation.  i pray these new predators don't destroy the industry........and starve future generations from experiencing this unique tradition
Apr 9, 2013 10:30AM
Everything is a priority right now, except jobs, which is the only thing that will save this economy. What is obama  really incharge of besides his popularity contest.
Apr 9, 2013 10:42AM
I am so FREAKING TIRED of criminals who just take what they want from people who have WORKED to earn what they have. We are way too soft on crime. Start lopping off hands and see where the crime rate goes.
Apr 9, 2013 9:15AM

"While imitation maple syrup such as Pinnacle Foods' () Mrs. Butterworth's might get the color right, they often fall short of the original flavor. Fake maple syrup such as Pepsico's () Aunt Jemima also costs a fraction of the real thing, going for about ".


"Aimee Picchi owns shares of Pepsico, which she hasn't bought or sold in more than 12 months. She's also a resident of Vermont, an occasional writer for Seven Days and pours only pure maple syrup on her pancakes".


So the author wants to make money by investing in an inferior imitation product yet is too good to eat what  she would like to cram down a lot of other peoples throats. I get it, she's no different than those in government that want better health care and better retirement than the rest of us.


Thank you Aimee Picchi, I'll be eating pure maple syrup from now on..... Enjoy your stocks.

Apr 9, 2013 10:17AM
Of course, at 40:1 reduction, maple sap costs about the same at bottled water (~$1/gallon). Not sure that's worth it, since you still have to transport it ($3.85/gallon gas) and boil it down (~620 kcal/kg).
Apr 9, 2013 11:05AM
This explains the police escort back to my car after I bought a jug of maple syrup from Costco.
Apr 9, 2013 10:06AM
There is a retarded blue gum in the white house, anything can happen .
Apr 9, 2013 10:13AM
after reading story got hungry for pancakes so  used instant mix ,margarine and sugar free syrup and tasted great
Apr 9, 2013 12:15PM
been hearing this story for 40 years from the Producers to justify price increases..Remember most Vermonters came from Canada and are Liberals therefore the truth is not in them...
Apr 9, 2013 10:35AM
From experience it takes alot more than getting a bucket of sap out of a tree! I like the artificial stuff better,even with free maple syrup  available.
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