TORONTO — The price of maple syrup is nearing a record, as warm winters and high production costs curb output and make the iconic Canadian sweetener a target for thieves.
The price of the breakfast-table treat, made from the sap of maple trees, has climbed 182 percent since the end of 1980, more than crude oil and gold.
“The price is high now because it’s a lot more expensive to produce” compared with other sweeteners, said Michael Farrell, maple syrup researcher at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, by telephone. “It’s an incredibly labor-intensive process and the technology hasn’t kept up with demand.”
Output of Canadian maple products including syrup, sugar and butter dropped about 8 percent this year to 7.9 million gallons, according to the country’s statistics agency. The price paid to producers in Quebec, where more than three-quarters of the world’s syrup originates, rose 0.7 percent to C$38.34 ($38.76) per gallon. U.S. production fell 32 percent this year to 1.91 million gallons (7.19 million liters), according to the Department of Agriculture.
That supply falls short of demand. U.S. syrup consumption rose to 2.7 ounces per person this year from 1 ounce per person in the 1970s, Cornell’s Farrell said.
Demand is so high for the pancake topping that people have resorted to theft. Three men were arrested and five others are being sought after syrup was stolen from a Quebec warehouse, according to a statement Tuesday from provincial police. The Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers said in August its warehouse in St-Louis-de Blandford, which holds about C$30 million of the province’s syrup reserve, had been burglarized.
“Our main market is still the United States and in 2012, the harvest was very bad,” said Simon Trepanier, executive director of the federation, the sole marketing body that represents 7,300 maple businesses in the country. Syrup prices spiked three years ago when low inventory prompted record purchases of maple syrup to hold in reserve, Trepanier said.
The process of extracting the sweetener is tedious. Sap is sucked from maple trees via tubes that drip into buckets attached to the tree trunks. The liquid is heated in cabins, known as sugar shacks, where it is reduced into syrup. Forty gallons of sap are needed to make one gallon of syrup. If the weather is too warm, as it has been in recent winters, less sap, and syrup, are produced.
Maple syrup is an item of national pride for Canadians; astronaut Chris Hadfield, the first Canadian to take a spacewalk, took tubes of it with him to the International Space Station this week.
“Canada has a reputation throughout the world. You have people knowing Canada for maple syrup,” Farrell said. “You have the maple leaf on your flag. It’s something to be proud of.”
— With assistance from Frederic Tomesco in Montreal.