ALSTEAD, N.H.—Syrup is flying off the shelves at grocery stores as panicked shoppers stock up for shut-ins against the Coronavirus.
“Grocery syrup sales are very strong and we are struggling to keep up with orders,” said Bruce Bascom of Bascom Maple Farms, one of the biggest grocery suppliers in the U.S..
“Consumers are hoarding food at home," Bascom said. "Maple syrup is a comfort food so if they have to eat at home it is logical that more pancakes and waffles with maple syrup is just what the doctor ordered.”
At the Hannaford supermarket in Greenwich, N.Y. and other places around the U.S., store shelves where syrup usually is stocked were completely wiped out.
“Retail grocery is very strong,” said David Marvin of Butternut Maple Farms in Morrisville, Vt. another leading grocery supplier.
In the Midwest, Steve Anderson of Anderson's Maple Syrup in Cumberland, Wisc. said sales have nearly doubled for his grocery store accounts, while sales in food service have dropped.
"My assumption is we are getting 2nd quarter sales in the 1st quarter and 2nd quarter will be a bit slower, but still above average," Anderson told The Maple News.
"In the past when people needed to save money and could not eat out syrup sales have always gone up for us," Anderson said. "I believe this is a similar situation. It is just starting with an avalanche and then will probably stabilize. I really don’t believe this will have a negative effect on our industry over the course of the year."
On the wholesale side, Bascom said he would be holding off on much of his bulk syrup field buying through third party buyers until he set a new syrup price sometime later in spring.
“Because of these uncertain times, we feel in may be necessary to delay setting a syrup prices until the 1st half of May,” Bascom said in a letter to his field buyers. “We would ask that you set your buy dates for late May or June and not buy syrup until prices have been set.”
While field buying has been postponed, barrels of syrup in the back of pickups and straight beds were piling into Bascom’s warehouse in Alstead, N.H. over the weekend. Staffers there were commenting they have never seen so many barrels come in so early.
Bascom was paying $2.10/lb. for Golden Delicate; $2.00 for Amber Rich and Dark Robust and $1.80 for Very Dark Strong. Processing syrup was fetching $1.10/lb. Bascom said he was paying a premium of 15 cents for organically certified.
Sugaring season continues to progress, with a moderate snowstorm in the Northeast on Monday perhaps slowing down tree bud.
Sugarmakers were still struggling with what has become a common refrain this season: low sugar in the sap.
“This is the lowest sugar content I’ve ever seen in 45 years of sugaring,” said Ken Saunders of Rupert, Vt., who told The Maple News he had made just 2,800 gallons so far on almost 19,000 taps. Most of his sap has been coming in at 1 percent or so, he said.
As state after state shuts down businesses, most maple operations are being considered essential and continuing to operate through the season.
In Wisconsin, where the governor there largely shut down the state on Monday, maple was exempted from the order.
“Maple syrup operations that manufacture or distribute food products are manufacturing, and therefore considered to be essential services,” said Theresa Baroun, executive director of the Wisconsin Maple Syrup Producers Associaton.
New York sugarmakers were also allowed to keep sugaring and stay in operation.
But proper sanitation and social distancing was still required, according to Helen Thomas, executive director of the New York State Maple Producers Association.
Meanwhile, some equipment suppliers that were open as recently as last Friday have now been ordered to close their doors.
“…we don’t think our work meets the standards laid out by the Michigan Governor that prohibit in-person work that is not necessary to protect and sustain life,” said Sugar Bush Supplies in Mason, Mich. in a blast email on Monday. “Therefore, we are closing our business and asking our employees to stay safe in their homes…”
Manufacturing of equipment in anticipation of post-season orders, particiarly in Canada, was continuing.
“We are still open. We are part of essential services,” said Benoit Pepin of Lapierre Equipment.