Ontario’s maple syrup producers are finding safe ways to partially make up for lost sales due to the cancellation of festivals during the COVID-19 outbreak
By Jackie Clark
Organizations have called off or postponed events, including maple syrup festivals across Ontario, for the health and safety of the public during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Maple Weekend typically occurs on the first weekend of April each year, and attracts more than 15,000 visitors. This year, however, the Ontario Maple Syrup Producers’ Association (OMSPA) cancelled the event, and many producers will experience a loss in sales.
“Producers are now just trying to get through the season and finish off making our syrup and then see what happens,” John Williams, executive director of the OMSPA, told Farms.com.
The impact of COVID-19 on the maple syrup industry in Ontario “really varies from producer to producer,” he added.
“About 15 per cent of the province’s syrup was sold as bulk” mostly to packers in Quebec, reported a study completed a few years ago. Bulk and wholesale syrup sales to retailers should be mostly unaffected, since the government deemed grocery stores essential, Williams explained.
However, “in Ontario, we tend to sell a lot of our syrup directly to customers,” he said. “About half of the syrup that gets consumed in Ontario is provided by Ontario producers.”
Small-scale producers who sell at the farm directly may experience a delay in sales, but their regular customers will probably find a way to get their syrup.
The effects of the pandemic on producers who rely on direct sales is “not as serious they are for someone who relies on the festivals or has a pancake house. Those operations are taking a big hit,” Williams explained.
Williams and other members of the OMSPA are estimating losing 30 per cent of sales this year from the festival cancellations.
“Some of us have also set up stores on our farms and are working within the separation rules and sanitation rules,” he said. But these farm sales “won’t replace the festivals for us, because we see a huge amount of traffic on those days. And some of those people don’t live close by, so they’re not going to drop by our farms.”
Williams has set up a self-serve store with hand sanitizer provided. Signage asks visitors not to enter if they are ill, and only enter one group or household at a time to maintain social distance.
Consumers can rest assured “there are no safety concerns around COVID with syrup produced at this time because it’s packed hot into the bottles and everything’s sterilized,” Williams said.
Despite sales challenges presented by COVID-19, maple syrup production is going well this year, Williams said.
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Other than the necessary cancellation of maple syrup events, producers in Ontario are having a good season, Williams said.
“We’re still making syrup. We’re having a good year. The quality is great and the quantity seems good so far. … A lot of producers are providing some way that people can drop by, still follow all the current guidelines and enjoy some fresh Ontario maple syrup.”
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