Vermont To Implement New Maple Grading System And Labels In January

Dec 11, 2013

Credit WAMC/Pat Bradley

Consumers will soon be unable to purchase “Vermont Fancy” maple syrup. That’s because the state is adopting a new grading and labeling system that officials say better describes the product.

The new system is an idea being promoted by the International Maple Syrup Institute to standardize maple grading across state and international borders. So far Ontario, Quebec, Maine, New York, Ohio, New Hampshire, Vermont, and agencies in the U.S. and Canada have passed, or are working on, proposals to adopt the new system. Vermont is the first to implement the new grading, and the regulations go into effect January 1st.

Vermont Agency of Agriculture Chief of Consumer Protection and state Maple Specialist Henry Marckres notes that there is a lot of syrup being produced, and everyone needs to be on the same page in order to market the syrup competitively.  "It’s basically to allow consumers to pick a syrup, not just by a color grade. Which really didn’t explain much. A medium amber, for people that don’t know syrup, they weren’t really sure what that meant. But the new grades have a color and a flavor descriptor. So the hope is that consumers can make a better choice and be more satisfied with their product. And also that we’ll be on level footing with other states and provinces marketing their syrup.”

Vermont Sugarmakers’ Association Executive Director Matt Gordon says consumers should find the new grades and labels much more appealing.  "There are four grades of syrup. We’ve got a golden with delicate taste. It’s got a really light sweetness. It’s a very subtle flavor. An amber with rich flavor, that’s probably the classic maple syrup for a lot of people. And dark with robust taste is something that’s gonna be a little stronger and for a lot of people probably much more interesting, especially people who right now are buying Grade B. And then our very dark with strong taste is something that I think a lot of people are going to be pretty excited about because most of that syrup right now hasn’t been available for sale retail. So that’s another angle that is really interesting with the new grades."

New York State Maple Producers Association Executive Director Helen Thomas says three states have approved the new regulations, New York is about a year behind Vermont in implementing the new system.  "We’re still working out the details with our regulatory agency, which is the Department of Agriculture and Markets here in New York State. It was a long overdue agreement amongst everybody who is in the industry that we needed to just come up with one thing that we all agreed, that we all called every thing. And then our customers wouldn’t be quite so confused when they went looking to buy their next purchase.”

Cornell University’s Uihlein Forest is the sugar maple research and extension field station in Lake Placid. Forest Director Mike Farrell says the cooperative grading system is critically important for the maple industry. "Most notably is that it’s going to allow greater expansion of the markets for pure maple syrup, not only here in the U.S., but throughout the world.  And as we continue to grow the maple industry and we produce more and more maple syrup every year, finding additional markets for this product is important. And the new grading system is going to make facilitation of entering those markets and selling the product much easier and more efficient."

Following the New Year’s Day rules implantation, there is a one-year transition period during which producers can use the old grade labels.