The process is called ‘steam-crafting,’ The Maple Guild VP of marketing and sales John Campbell told FoodNavigator-USA.
Most producers use direct-heat, an hour-long process to turn sap into syrup, Campbell explained. “That creates some hot spots [and a] darker grade, whereas our steam-crafting process uses an indirect heat, and based on the size of the evaporators, the surface area, and the process itself, we can actually turn around and make a 55-gallon drum of syrup in less than three minutes,” he added.
With this procedure, The Maple Guild wants to bring lighter-colored maple syrup (which the company argues is the closest thing to maple sap) and branch out of the smaller, independent natural grocers its currently distributed at in New England and Manhattan and become a national brand.
“We want to scale it and really become a national brand. There aren’t a lot of name brand maple syrups out there,” Campbell added. “If you ask someone to name one, unfortunately they’d probably name you a corn syrup and not pure maple syrup.”
Let’s get technical
“The technique is exclusive to us, we invented it,” said Mike Argyelan, CEO of The Maple Guild. The equipment was made in Canada proprietorially, shipped to the 25,000-acre property in Island Pond, VT, to a brick structure that used to be a furniture factory.
“Essentially, we pre-boil syrup before it hits the main evaporators, and we do that with steam that was generated at the bottom evaporator—and we shoot air in to the top evaporator which makes the concentrate float in the steam,” he said.
According to Campbell and Argyelan, this technique is less energy-intensive than the common processing procedure in the industry, part of the narrative that the company pitches to the market (in addition to a certification by the Rainforest Alliance).
Growing demand for premium maple syrup
Though ‘table syrups’ still prevail in the market, the clean label movement at the consumer level has helped boost business for pure, single-estate and more premium maple syrups, garnering patronage for north-eastern companies like The Maple Guild or Hudson Valley-based Crown Maple.
“It’s been kind of a stale category,” Campbell said. “We can do it differently and we can do it right, starting with the vertical integration and really controlling everything from tree to table.” This yields a superior syrup, Campbell argued, and the price-point is a higher one, ranging from $9.99 to $18.99 a bottle.
But syrup isn’t the only finished product it produces—it also has a line of creams, spreads, and candy, and recently announced beverages (though still under wraps) that will retail for around $3.49 a bottle. The company will be shipping its first orders to UNFI’s eight warehouses on the East Coast.
“If we had come in as a me-too product, doing the same thing everybody else does, I think we would’ve been looked at as just another maple guy,” Campbell said. “But we came with the story of sustainability, and upscale packaging, and really show the power of premium maple at an accessible cost.”