Why is maple syrup so expensive right now?

Maple syrup prices have been on the rise over the past few years, leaving many wondering why this popular pancake topper is getting so costly. There are a few key reasons maple syrup has been experiencing price hikes recently.

Low Yield Seasons

Maple syrup comes from the sap of maple trees, which farmers collect and boil down into syrup. The amount of sap maple trees produce fluctuates from year to year, and depends heavily on the weather and temperatures during the tapping season. The ideal conditions for sap flow are freezing cold nights below freezing paired with warmer days above freezing. This thaw-freeze cycle creates pressure which makes the sap flow up from the roots.

If the weather is too warm, the trees will not produce very much sap. The past few tapping seasons have had warmer than average temperatures across the Northeast, which is the heart of maple syrup production in the U.S. and Canada. Warm weather equals lower yields of maple sap, which translates into less maple syrup supply.

Increasing Demand

At the same time as yields have decreased, demand for maple syrup has gone up. Pancake consumption rose 33% from 2011 to 2021, driving up the need for syrup. Maple syrup is also finding its way into more recipes and products, from maple lattes and maple taffies to maple syrup vineyards producing maple wine. Additionally, maple syrup is gaining popularity globally in places like the UK, Japan, and Hong Kong, expanding the export market.

With low supply and high demand, maple syrup prices have responded accordingly. Economics 101 – when supply is low and demand is high, prices will rise.

Costs of Production

Producing maple syrup is a very labor intensive and time consuming process. Tapping trees, collecting and filtering sap, and boiling the sap down into syrup requires a tremendous amount of work. Most maple syrup is still produced on small family farms, where this work is extremely hands-on.

The costs associated with maple syrup production have been rising steadily. Fuel and equipment costs are some of the biggest expenses for maple farms. As diesel fuel and metal prices rise, the cost of production increases. Farms have expensive infrastructure like miles of tubing, reverse-osmosis machines, and evaporators to set up and maintain. The tapping season is also short, just 4-8 weeks long depending on location and weather. So farms need to earn their revenue in a very short time period each year.

As the costs and effort involved in maple syrup production have increased, so have retail prices to keep up with expenses.

Maple Syrup Grade Changes

Maple syrup gets classified into different grades based on color and flavor. In 2015, the maple industry standards board made changes to the syrup grade classifications. What used to be called “Grade A Medium Amber” became “Grade A Dark Amber.” And “Grade A Amber” and “Grade A Light Amber” both got renamed “Grade A Golden.”

The Dark Amber syrup ends up having stronger flavor, which some maple lovers prefer. Since it has the strongest maple taste, Dark Amber has been able to command higher prices from buyers. Meanwhile, Golden syrup had more modest flavor. So the grading shifts end up funnelling more maple syrup into the higher-priced Dark Amber grade.

Maple Syrup Theft

Believe it or not, maple syrup theft is a real issue! With maple syrup prices on the rise, thieves have been sneaking into sugar shacks and tapping into farmers’ syrup stores to illegally sell on the black market. There have been multi-million dollar maple syrup heists reported over the past decade in Canada. Replacing stolen inventory also drives up costs for legitimate syrup producers.

Climate Change

Climate change and warmer weather patterns also pose a long term threat to maple syrup production. The sap harvesting season has already shifted earlier in the year over the past few decades. And production regions are shifting further North. Southern maple areas like West Virginia and Pennsylvania that used to contribute a lot of syrup now produce very little compared to northern states.

Scientists predict that maple tapping zones will continue shifting north as global temperatures rise. This geographic shift could drastically alter syrup production over the next 50-100 years. Climate change also increases the chances of big temperature swings during critical sap flow periods, potentially increasing risk of very low yielding seasons.

Cartels and Quotas

About 75% of the world’s maple syrup comes from the province of Quebec, Canada. The Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers operates as a cartel with firm control over Quebec’s syrup output. The Federation enforces quotas that dictate how much syrup each Quebec producer can sell each year. This strict system aims to avoid flooding the market with syrup, which would drive prices down.

Some accuse the Federation of artificially inflating prices through the quota system. But the Federation argues it helps stabilize syrup prices and prevent extreme highs and lows that could drive producers out of business. Either way, the supply quotas in Quebec have an effect on global syrup economics.

Substitutes and Alternatives

With real maple syrup getting more expensive, consumers may turn to lower cost substitutes like corn syrup, maple-flavored syrup, or agave nectar. These imitators can offer a very similar taste for a fraction of the cost. However, they lack the subtle complexity and health benefits of real maple. Using substitutes decreases demand for real maple syrup, but generally has not lowered prices as faster growth in Asian and European markets has absorbed the slack.

Speculation and Commodities Trading

Maple syrup prices are not just governed by fundamentals of supply and demand. There are speculative forces at play too. Maple syrup futures contracts allow investors and institutions to bet on where maple prices are headed. This speculation may inflate prices beyond syrup’s true supply and demand. Likewise, commodities traders specializing in agricultural futures may exert outsized impact on syrup prices.

In conclusion, a combination of supply challenges, increased costs, grading changes, theft, climate impacts, quota systems, and speculative trading have all contributed to the rise in maple syrup prices over recent years. With prices now averaging over $70 per gallon for retail syrup, this special sweetener is becoming more of a luxury item.


Maple syrup prices have risen sharply in recent years due to a perfect storm of factors – low yields, high demand, increasing production costs, grading changes to favor darker syrup, theft cutting supply, climate change pressuring the industry, and commodities speculation. With prices now averaging over $70 per gallon, maple syrup is definitely leaning toward being a high-end product.

The supply and demand issues in the maple syrup market create an unfavorable situation for consumers. But they reflect bigger challenges on both an agricultural and climate front. Hopefully maple farmers, policymakers, and scientists can work together to find ways to protect the future of this treasured product.

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