Coconut water has a new competitor. Maple water, a beverage consisting of the raw sap from sugar maple trees, has made its Canadian market debut in Quebec and British Columbia, according to an organization of maple sugar producers.
This initial market foray is small, with 400,000 liters having been produced, said Paul Rouillard, deputy director of the Quebec Federation of Maple Syrup Producers. But judging from the reaction of the two companies packaging the product, the response has been strong; they have asked for production to be increased threefold, he said.
Like coconut water, maple water can be considered a mid calorie beverage, with 45 calories per 500 ml serving. Its taste is a faint echo of the flavor familiar to pancake breakfast aficionados.
“It’s about a 2% concentration of maple sugar. Maple syrup is about 66%, so you can see the difference,” Rouillard told FoodNavigator-USA.
Suite of bioactive compounds
In supermarkets in the two regions, maple water, packaged in Tetrapaks and marketed under three brand names, is shelved alongside coconut water, Rouillard said. As far as the marketing message and product claims are concerned, that is still being refined along with the health benefits of the product, although polyphenolic content (2 mg per 250 ml) is being called out on the labels.
“The research is still going on in that. But we have identified 46 bioactive compounds. It has a variety of vitamins, minerals, organic and amino acids, polyphenols and phytohormones,” Rouillard said. “In antioxidants it is better than tomatoes.”
The production process is the same as that for maple syrup and maple sugar, without the reducing steps, Rouillard said. It’s a finicky process that depends on weather conditions. Sap is taken from the tree and must be held below 40 degrees on its way to the packaging plant. And sap can only be harvested in the spring when nighttime temperatures don’t dip below the mid 20s and daytime highs don’t top about 45.
“The season ranges from March to the end of April,” Rouillard said. “We have about 10 to 15 days during those 6 weeks to harvest.”
But even with those constraints, there is ample potential supply Rouillard said. Sugar maple trees grow across eastern Canada. The trees grow in the northeastern US, too.
“In Quebec we have about 42 million taps of maple trees right now, and we could go up to 100 million,” Rouillard said. “Right now we have about 7,300 producers in the federation.”
So the limiting factor is not the trees, Rouillard said. The bottleneck, at this early stage of development, lies in the transport of the sap to the packaging plants, which is being done with the type of tanker trucks that also transport milk.
“The problem is not the production at the trees. The main limiting factor is the transportation. Maple water is more fragile than milk,” he said.
The early market foray will assess the product’s overall market acceptance. And in British Columbia, the federation is looking in particular at the product’s uptake among ethnic Asian consumers, which appears strong from early reports, Rouillard said. After assessing the data, decisions will be made about boosting production and entering new markets, including at some point the US.
“We will see if the response of the consumer here is good. When we have the data from that we will go into the United States. You are a little bigger than us,” he said.