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A Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers report indicates that by 2018, Quebec’s market share is expected to drop to 63 per cent while U.S. sales are being tapped to reach 29 per cent.Christinne Muschi/The Globe and Mail

The giant of the global maple syrup industry is losing some of its swagger.

The Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers, which represents most of the province's maple syrup harvesters, is increasingly feeling the pressure from growing competition south of the border, particularly in Vermont, New York and Maine.

Quebec has long dominated the maple syrup scene, holding some 80 per cent or more of world production in years past, partly by maintaining a strictly enforced supply-management, marketing and quality-control system. But aggressive U.S. rivals have made inroads, reducing the province's market share to an average of 72 per cent over the past three years, said Paul Rouillard, deputy director of the 7,300-member federation.

In dramatic contrast, the average market share for the U.S. in recent years has shot up to 23 per cent from 16 per cent, according to a study conducted for the Quebec federation by consultants Forest Lavoie.

Now the Quebec syrup federation is poring over its options to fight back.

"Everything is on the table," said Mr. Rouillard, including finding ways to cut costs and overhaul its export strategy. "What we need to do is act so that we remain the leader and decide on the tools to meet that goal," he said.

The federation stockpiles an enormous "strategic reserve" of maple syrup to stabilize the price, and has come under fire for imposing quotas on its members. It has seen some Quebec producers shift their operations to the U.S., Mr. Rouillard said.

"There are tremendous opportunities for growth in the U.S. – particularly Vermont, New York, Maine – and some businesses are being started by Canadians," said Tim Perkins, director of the Proctor Maple Research Center at the University of Vermont.

"They can't grow in Canada because of the [Quebec] quota system, so they come across the border and make syrup here."

Mr. Rouillard attributes the sugar-bush expansion south of the 49th parallel to the rise – until recently – in the value of the Canadian dollar, as well as to the high prices in Quebec because of the stockpiling and quota system.

"To a certain extent, we're victims of our own success," he said.

Also, demand for natural sweeteners such as maple syrup – as opposed to the ersatz stuff made from corn syrup – is rising, Mr. Perkins said. The Forest Lavoie study also mentions technological advances as factors encouraging new entrants.

But the decline in the value of the loonie will likely put a damper on the commercial tapping of maple trees in the U.S., Mr. Perkins said.

"We'll still continue to see some expansion, but it won't continue at the rate [at which] it had been going up."

Matthew Gordon, executive director of the Vermont Maple Sugar Makers Association, says the "bulk price for syrup has been relatively high, and stable, due to growing market demand for pure maple syrup and because the Quebec Federation of Maple Syrup Producers has helped to stabilize the price for syrup."

He plays down the threat Vermont represents.

"There is more than enough market share available for pure maple syrup, be it from Quebec, Vermont, New York, Ontario or wherever."

The real threat is from table syrups that use inexpensive corn syrup – which is "heavily subsidized" – and artificial flavours, Mr. Gordon said.

The study commissioned by the Quebec federation forecasts "significant growth in American production" and "the loss of market share in terms of sales of Quebec maple products on the American market."

By 2018, Quebec's share is expected to drop to 63 per cent while U.S. sales are predicted to increase to 29 per cent, according to the report.

Follow Bertrand Marotte on Twitter: @globemontrealOpens in a new window

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