Question of the Week
Answer: Maple sugar producers should identify markets for their sap, syrup, and value-added products and develop a cohesive marketing plan even before they tap their first maple tree.
Marketing options available to producers include selling the raw sap to another producer, making the sap into syrup for wholesale or retail sales, using the syrup to create value-added products to sell, or bottling the raw sap to sell as a tonic. Each option has specific considerations:
• Selling the sap raw to another sugarmaker reduces the initial investment of production equipment, but will yield significantly lower revenue, since most of the profit is in the finished syrup. It does provide a new producer with some revenue during the process of establishing a sugarbush, offering the opportunity for learning proper tapping techniques, setting up collection lines (which can be somewhat complex to design properly), and assessing yield potential so the producer can more accurately develop data-informed business and financial plans.
• Wholesale sales of syrup and value-added maple products often reduce risks associated with retail sales by offering assured sales through established customers. Wholesale sales can help ensure that producers do not carry excess inventory. However, wholesale will yield lower revenues than retail sales, which offer more favorable margins.
• Retail markets that sell direct to consumers carry a higher return on investment through higher per-unit revenues. Selling retail requires additional time, eff ort, and added costs for items such as bottling equipment, bottles, labels, advertising, and promotion. Retail channels to explore include sugarhouse storefronts, direct-to-consumer Internet sales, farm stands, farmers markets, fairs, restaurants, health food stores, and others. Think outside the box to identify untapped markets, such as selling syrup to a business that sells specialty gift baskets, or maple treats as wedding favors. Open houses provide an excellent opportunity to introduce new customers to your maple sugar operation, entice people to try value-added confections, and increase sales of both syrup and other maple products.
• Pure, unprocessed maple sap is also gaining in popularity as a tonic that cleanses the body, and it offers another viable market option.
You can learn much more on this topic by consulting the ATTRA publication Maple Sugaring: An Introduction to Small-Scale Commercial Production. It provides an overview of maple sugaring, including business planning, financial considerations, marketing, equipment and supplies, value-added products, organic certification, regulations, and quality control. It also includes resources for acquiring more knowledge on maple syrup production and determining if maple sugaring is a viable addition to a farming operation.
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