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Bitter Business for Maple Syrup Makers Amid Virus Outbreak

Scott Dunn fills a sample bottle of maple syrup at the Dunn Family Maple sugar house in Buxton, Maine, April 1, 2020.
Scott Dunn fills a sample bottle of maple syrup at the Dunn Family Maple sugar house in Buxton, Maine, April 1, 2020.

The sap has been flowing for weeks in trees in maple country, but syrup sales may not be so swift, with restaurants and specialty food shops closed, sugaring events canceled and fans staying home to help slow the spread of the coronavirus.

In the largest maple-producing state, Vermont's annual open house weekend, which draws thousands of visitors to producers' sugar houses, was canceled last month, as were similar events in New Hampshire and Maine.

"For a lot of smaller producers that's their big weekend, and some even claim that upward of 50% of their sales come from that," said Cory Ayotte, a spokesman for the Vermont Maple Sugar Makers' Association.

Some producers will struggle to make up for the cancellations.

"It's an unfortunate set of circumstances that hit the sugar makers. It's not good for anyone. We just had to cancel our Super Bowl," said Scott Dunn, president of the Maine Maple Producers Association and owner of Dunn Family Maple in Buxton, Maine.

At 6 Saplings Sugarhouse in Wilmot, New Hampshire, business was great the first two weeks of March, and then sales dwindled drastically after tours were canceled and a restaurant that regularly ordered syrup closed, co-owner Dara Gove said.

"We have a big, beautiful sugarhouse that's brand new that we wanted to share with everybody," she said.

But a sweet outcome of so many people staying home is an uptick in online syrup sales, some producers say. Many are also allowing curbside pickup or doing their own deliveries.

"Our mail order is up quite a bit with people staying home," said Leslie Luce, officer manager for Sugarbush Farm in Woodstock, Vermont. While its retail store is closed, customers can order syrup by phone and pick it up themselves.

Online orders also have picked up a lot at Bragg Farm Maple Sugarhouse and Gift Shop in East Montpelier, Vermont, but owner Doug Bragg anticipates that sales overall will be down.

At Butternut Mountain Farm in Morrisville, Vermont, many of its food service or specialty foods customers are closed and don't need syrup now, while sales to grocery stores and warehouse clubs are strong as people bulk up on groceries, said owner David Marvin.

Around the region producers, are reporting an average to strong season in terms of sap flow and syrup.