Proposed standards will mean a change for N.H. syrup makers

Grade B maple syrup may be getting a rebranding in New Hampshire and beyond as maple syrup producers work to standardize syrup grades across the industry.

The Ontario-based International Maple Syrup Institute, a trade group with members in Canada and the U.S., has proposed standardized international maple syrup grades that can be adopted across the industry to make it easier to market to consumers, it said.

New Hampshire currently has four consumer grades of maple syrup: Grade A Light Amber, Grade A Medium Amber, Grade A Dark Amber, and Grade B, a darker syrup that is commonly used in cooking and has a very strong maple flavor.

If the state adopts the new standards, Grade B would be no longer. Maple syrup would be classified into four Grade A color classes with more descriptive names: Golden Maple Syrup with a Delicate Taste; Amber Maple Syrup with a Rich Taste; Dark Maple Syrup with Robust Taste; and Very Dark Maple Syrup with a Strong Taste.

The proposed standards don't actually change anything about the way maple syrup is harvested, said Robyn Pearl, publicist for the New Hampshire Maple Producers Association. The changes are instead an attempt to unify the industry and create continuity of terms regardless of whether syrup is purchased from a sugarhouse in New Hampshire's North Country or in New Brunswick.

"It's still going to be your same basic (syrup) that you're used to, it'll just have a different name for it," said Pearl. "They're trying to make things more descriptive, so you'll know it more by color and taste."

The state association, which is a member of IMSI, has approved "of the concept of the change," but is still waiting for the grading system to win federal approval in Canada and the U.S. While IMSI has a goal of implementation for the 2013 season, "at this point I don't think it's going to be until at least 2014," said Pearl.

Pearl said there hasn't been too much opposition from New Hampshire maple producers about the proposal, though some have expressed concern that it will cause confusion for consumers who are unfamiliar with the new terms. In the long run, though, Pearl said it should make things easier for consumers because the new names will be more descriptive and the same across the board.

Chris Pfeil, who owns the Maple Guys Sugar Shack in Lyndeborough, said he's happy with the existing system and doesn't see a need for the changes. It basically amounts to just selling Grade B under a different name, he said.

"It is costly for guys like me, because our jugs say 'dark syrup', 'medium syrup,' and we'll have to change that aspect of it, and all the grade labels," said Pfeil, whose operation makes about 300 gallons of maple syrup a season.

But, he said, he's basically resigned himself to the changes, especially now that Vermont seems to be considering the changes. Public meetings were held in the Green Mountain state last week to discuss the new standards.

"I think it's going to go through regardless of what anybody has to say … it's one of those things. Canada drives the market, and if it gets through Vermont, then it's a done deal, because how could one state like New Hampshire not do it?"


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