Maple Syrup: A Challenge to the Cartel

Did you know about 72% of the world’s maple syrup supply comes from Quebec, Canada? To clarify, I’m not talking about brands like Aunt Jemima or Mrs. Butterworth’s which use mostly corn syrup, but the authentic, came-from-a-maple-tree stuff. The stuff that costs $40 a gallon, not $8 a gallon.

Some quick facts about maple syrup production. Maple syrup is generally made from the sap of either sugar maples or red maples. Sap production requires cold nights and temperate days, and is highly variable. The sap is transferred from the trees to the “sugar shack” by spouts using tubing and gravity. Once in the sugar shack, the sap is concentrated and boiled to make the syrup we are familiar with. Maple syrup is produced only in North America, with most production concentrated in New York, Vermont, and Quebec.

So why does maple syrup cost $40 a gallon? Mainly, because of the Fédération des Producteurs Acéricoles du Québec (FPAQ), or Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers. This Canadian cartel uses the Global Strategic Maple Syrup Reserve, a warehouse full of 16,000  56 gallon barrels, to hold prices higher than they would be otherwise, and to weather the years where pests or bad weather impede production. In years where production exceeds expectations, FPAQ moves syrup into the reserve, preventing the supply curve from shifting right, which maintains prices for producers. This also keeps consumers from benefiting from reduced prices in productive years, but helps ensure price stability in years where production is reduced. This government-condoned system of quotas and price management might be coming to an end.

This challenge is coming from the country that imports the most maple syrup in the world, the United States.Over the last decade, American syrup producers have stolen up to 10% of the global market share from Quebec. In 2016, Vermont and New York, the highest producing states in the US, produced about 2.7 million gallons of syrup. This prompted the FPAQ to increase quotas for their producers by 12 percent, which they hope will both regain their market share and limit the number of their producers who have turned to selling on the black market. It’s possible that this will drive down prices, if demand fails to increase as much as FPAQ is counting on.

Lastly, click here to see the article about a theft from the Global Strategic Maple Syrup Reserve of monumental proportions, which inspired me to write about this topic. If any movie producers happen across this post, this looks like it has the makings of a good heist movie. Maybe with Nicolas Cage, called National Treasure: Liquid Gold? Or alternatively, bring in Charlize Theron, Mark Wahlberg, and Jason Statham and call it The Canadian Job? Just some ideas.

With tongue planted firmly in cheek,
Max Coleman

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