Steeves Maples: Modernizing a Canadian staple

Steeves Maples: Modernizing a Canadian staple

If you believe in the old legends, maple syrup was discovered by accident when one indigenous man threw his axe into a maple tree located near their fire pit. While dinner was being cooked on an open flame, heat from the blaze prompted the sap to drip from the tree, down the ax handle and into their pots. This made their meal incredibly delicious, so they collected this “sweet sap” in large amounts and boiled it into delightful, thick syrup.

Roger Steeves, CEO of Steeves Maples from Elgin, New Brunswick may know if that legend is true. His family has been in the maple syrup business since 1869 but their roots in the Elgin area date back to the 1700s when, family lore suggests, indigenous peoples were very familiar with the art of making maple syrup.

“That’s what people had for sweetener at that time” says Steeves, “Access to sugar was very limited and expensive then, so the maple syrup was a great commodity.”

The mighty maple leaf

Canada is the world leader in the production of maple syrup products, with exports of $359 million in 2015.

Although maple trees grow all over the world, it is only in northeastern North America that we get the correct climatic conditions for the production and harvest of maple sap.

Generally, maple syrup is harvested and produced in the small window between the end of February and the beginning of April.

“That’s the problem with traditional pure maple syrup,“ says Steeves. “The short harvest season, limited supply, a high cost of achieving the product and erratic weather patterns.”

Faced with these issues, Roger Steeves turned to molecular biology.

Modernizing maple

Always fascinated with the molecular systems, in the early 90’s Steeves had the idea of creating a product that was virtually molecularly identical to pure maple syrup. “Maple syrup is often irregular in colour and irregular in flavor.” He explains. “Also, the extremely short production time makes it very expensive. I thought there must be a better way.”

Steeves contacted food scientists at the New Brunswick Research & Productivity Council and after costly and extensive research & development, their flagship product “Steeves Maples – Original Canadian Maple Taste Syrup” was born.

Since “pure maple syrup” can only be harvested about 6 weeks a year, most syrups you find in retail stores are either blends of maple syrup ingredients or maple flavoured. The vast majority of these low-grade, low-cost “table” syrups contain high fructose corn syrup and other sugars, additives or preservatives.

While Steeves product is not classified as pure maple syrup, it is an all-natural, maple flavoured “Canadian Syrup” that can be used in the same ways traditional maple syrup can.

What’s the difference?

“Pure Maple Syrup” is made using 100 per cent sap from the maple tree that is cooked to a 66-68 per cent brix (sugar content).

“Canadian Syrup” is an all-natural blend of pure maple syrup, natural cane sugar and natural maple flavouring cooked at 66-68 per cent brix to produce a natural, virtually identical product.

The central difference is that Steeves Maples – Original Canadian Maple Taste Syrup is priced at a fraction of pure maple syrup and because they manufacture the product, it is consistent in quality and available year-round.

Hard-earned success tastes sweeter

The price of creating and marketing a new product was a difficult burden for Steeves Maples. “It cost us a lot of money.“ Recalls Steeves “We had no government funding and the expense of development was challenging. It was a literally a situation of succeed or you are at the end of your driveway with your suitcase.”

Based on their “Original Canadian Maple Taste Syrup” formula, they have built a full line of products for both retail and industrial clients, as well as vast experience in private label projects and custom product development with an in-house research and development lab in their 12,000 square foot facility.

Get more exporting insights from Steeves Maples’ Roger Steeves here.

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