Our Canadian neighbor to the north, the province of Quebec, is to maple syrup what OPEC is to oil. Quebec harvests 75 percent of the world’s supply, and even maintains its own strategic reserves.
But two seasons of colder-than-usual temperatures resulted in poor harvests. That slump in production, combined with increased global popularity, has sent prices soaring as the 2009 harvest begins.
While supply has dwindled, international demand has increased, largely because of marketing efforts by the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers, a trade group representing 7,300 companies. The focus has been on Asia, and Japan now accounts for 10 percent of Canada’s maple syrup exports, according to statistics pro-vided by the federation.
In Quebec, the price of a standard 540-milliliter container, which is roughly a pint, has hit about $10, compared with $6.50 throughout most of this decade.
In the United States, that could mean local retail prices can be the equivalent of more than $100 a gallon. At prices like that, industry leaders are worried maple syrup will come to be seen as a luxury product, with consumers increasingly opting for cheaper imitation “table syrup,” which is usually colored corn syrup.
At one local grocery store in central Maine, a liter (roughly a quart) of syrup was selling Thursday for $21.99, more than $83 a gallon. A 12-ounce bottle of pure maple syrup was $14.99, or about $160 a gallon.
In 2007, the average retail price of a gallon of maple syrup was $33.20, up $1.90 from the previous year, according to federal statistics.
Since wholesale syrup prices are set at the end of the season, consumers won’t know for months how high the prices will go this year.
Two New York congressmen saw an economic opportunity in this rise and recently introduced a bill that would help small producers nationwide get access to trees on private land and to create centralized storage and bottling plants. Sen. Charles E. Schumer, a New York Democrat, and Rep. John McHugh, an upstate Republi-can, introduced the bill in hopes of increasing sales throughout the industry by 400 percent.
Even at such high prices, the consumers’ demand for pure maple syrup shows no sign of slowing. National consumers’ groups report that U.S. demand for maple syrup — and maple-flavored syrups — has remained constant with regular use by about 30 percent of the population for decades. Most home cooks aren’t investing in $100 gallons of the sweet product. They are buying 16-ounce containers, which makes their purchase far less daunting.