Supply chain issues, worker shortages still impacting maple industry

Sap is running and that has sugar makers working, but problems from last year are already leading to trouble this season.
Published: Mar. 8, 2022 at 8:16 AM EST
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - The sap is running and sugar-makers are busy, but supply chain problems persist this season.

Eric Sorkin, the co-owner of Runamok Maple in Fairfax, says the sugar season snuck up quickly. They hope for a better year than last.

“Crops ranged from about half a crop to three-quarters,” said Sorkin.

It wasn’t the sweetest syrup come year’s end but he says they made it through.

“We all want it to be a really good year to make up for it,” Sorkin said.

But this year is already presenting its own unique set of challenges including labor, supply chain shortages and inflation.

“In our packing facility here, it’s been everything -- labor and supply chain for sure -- two of the bigger things,” said Sorkin.

He says hiring for their woods operations has been a challenge. As for supplies, a shortage of glass bottles is slowing them down, and they’re not alone.

“Last fall, we had heard containers and jugs being an issue,” said Cory Ayotte with the Vermont Maple Sugar Makers’ Association.

To get ahead, they created a container committee.

“We’re taking the blank jugs, shipping them to a member in state, and they are actually labeling them and that is increasing the time -- or speeding it up I should say -- getting them to members,” Ayotte said.

While Ayotte agrees staffing has been a problem through the pandemic, he remains optimistic for this year.

“I hope I’m not speaking too soon. It seems like people are getting back out working and I’m just sort of excited for the season ahead,” said Ayotte. “A lot of them now have robust online sale sites. And again, now that we are coming out of COVID, are still selling in person. But that is just another way for them to get their products in state and out of state.”

But staffing and container issues could eventually change how consumers pay for a gallon. Sorkin says Runamok is watching the costs of maple syrup. He says they have been trying to absorb the majority of increases but their products will likely follow food prices.

“Sometimes it feels like we are lurching from one new urgency to another because there are some many things that are out of our control right now that are definitely impacting us,” said Sorkin.

Ayotte says they have no notable increase in product from their members and a gallon should cost about $45 to $60 this year.

“We have done everything we can, we have a really good team in place. We have all the right components,” said Sorkin.

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