SOUTH ROYALTON, Vt. - For the first time in three decades, Vermont has changed the names it gives to differing grades of maple syrup, dropping the well-known Vermont Fancy for the more descriptive, if less fanciful, Golden Color/Delicate Taste.
As the No. 1 producer of maple syrup in the United States, Vermont is expected to lead the way for other states to adopt the new names by 2015.
Vermont produced about 40% of the total U.S. syrup crop of roughly 3.25 million gallons in 2013. All of the New England states make maple syrup, along with Pennsylvania, New York, and even a few states outside the Northeast, such as Virginia, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin.
Vermont's remaining designations of Grade A Medium Amber, Grade A Dark Amber, and Grade B have been replaced by Amber/Rich Taste, Dark/Robust Taste, and Very Dark/Strong Taste. Very Dark/Strong Taste is a syrup that was not even available on the retail market previously, according to Matt Gordon, executive director of the Vermont Maple Sugar Makers Association here.
"It was about a 10-year process, not something that was a quick, fly-by-night decision," Gordon said. "Now we have very distinct syrups to offer."
All of the new names are designated as Grade A. Grade B is no more.
The new system also has a Processing Grade, which may not be sold as packaged maple syrup but goes instead to food-processing companies that use it as an ingredient in a variety of products, ranging from yogurt to maple-flavored sausage.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture, and Agriculture Canada, the USDA's counterpart in Canada, also are expected to change their grading systems in 2015 to mirror the ones adopted in Vermont, according to the Vermont Agency of Agriculture.
Canada is a far bigger producer of maple syrup than the United States, with total production last year of about 10 million gallons, much of it from Quebec.
Not everyone is happy with the new grading system. Within Vermont, some long-time sugar makers are convinced the state will relinquish its position as the maple syrup leader by using the same names as everyone else.
Under the old system, only Vermont had Fancy syrup.
"Vermont has spent many years and even more dollars promoting her products. Maple being at the top," said Ken Bushee a sugar maker in Danby, Vt.
"We have touted the difference in our syrup, how much it is preferable to others. Very discouraging to now think of our syrup being lumped in with all the rest, all that promotion is lost in this shuffle," he said. "I believe it is more for the ease of universal packaging than to make it easier for the customer."
Bushee said the new names may be descriptive, but they're not "user-friendly." He has a hard time picturing a customer coming into his farm store asking for "Golden Color/Delicate Taste" syrup.
Matt Gordon respectfully disagrees.
"For most people, it became apparent how helpful this will be not only for international sales, but also for folks coming to visit Vermont," Gordon said. "The new grading standards give a better indication of what's in the bottle, especially since so much syrup is sold in tan, opaque jugs."
The International Maple Syrup Institute developed the new standards with plenty of input from Vermont producers. The institute has no physical location, but its executive director is based in Spencerville, Ontario.
John Kingston, chief executive officer of Butternut Mountain Farm in Morrisville, Vt., said the transition presents a formidable logistical challenge, migrating from existing labels to new labels. Butternut is one of the biggest processors in the state, filling some 70,000 square feet of space with storage, bottling lines and a maple sugar production area.
The company bottles not only its own syrup but also syrup for many other producers, big grocery chains and others.
"I think it's the right thing for the industry," Kingston said of the new labeling standards. "With that said, it's a considerable investment and challenge for the industry as well."
Bushee's family has been making maple syrup on a farm in Danby for more than 100 years. Bushee and his wife, Francie, took over the operation in 1978 when Bushee's mother decided "she was not wanting to be in the sugar house."
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