Guide to Packaging Maple Syrup

A key to successful maple syrup marketing is to have the consumer as excited about your product at the point of purchase as they are after it has been taken home. Part of that take-home success involves the packaging of the syrup itself.

To many in the maple syrup market, glass is the industry standard. Yet producers are always seeking reliable alternatives to glass for consumer-class maple syrup packaging.

Bradley Gillilan, president of Leader Evaporator, Inc., in Swanton, Vermont, named some other ways to package maple syrup besides glass jars. “Plastic jugs and metal cans are commonly used alternatives to glass bottles,” he said.

Many producers are interested in metal cans as a way to package syrup. Gillilan’s advice on metal is that, “It is really only a good packaging [material] when it is used with syrup that will be sold in gift shops and specialty stores.” When syrup is sold in metal cans, the can is usually in the shape of a maple leaf or a sugaring shack, which can increase point-of-sale impact for the consumer.

“Glass is a cheaper option only when it is being used to package small amounts of syrup, such as in the half-pint size,” said Bruce Bascom, co-owner with his wife, Elizabeth, of Bascom Maple Farms in Alstead, New Hampshire. If glass is used to package a volume of syrup larger than half a pint, then it will be more expensive than plastic bottles, according to Bascom.

The Bascom farm sits on 2,200 acres where the family has produced maple syrup since 1853. Today they also run a modern production and packing facility.

If a farm’s plan is to sell a sizeable amount of syrup in the pint or quart size, plastic probably will be cheaper. With this option, the producer might lose the ability to make a fashion statement on the bottle label. That statement is always crucial in forming first impressions.

If syrup will be sold in small sizes to more specialized stores, metal and glass containers may be the most practical.

When choosing between the typical finger-loop oval bottles and those shaped like a maple leaf, Gillilan said the choice depends on the market. “A lot of it has to do with the overall cost of (the) bottle,” he said.

The most common type of bottle found at supermarkets is the finger-loop since it is cheaper to stock and will store easier on shelves due to its ergonomic shape. At gift shops, it is “just as much about selling the bottle and look as it is the product,” Gillilan said. Although the traditional finger-loop model is cheap and common, the maple leaf is used in a lot of applications since the maple leaf represents the product so well.

When a producer is choosing between the cost-effective finger-loop mold and the fancier maple leaf shape, the decision is often based on where that bottle will end up. It makes little difference at the farm end since neither mold fills any differently, according to Leader Evaporator.

In any business, knowing what the consumer buys plays a vital role in the company’s success. According to Bascom, when selling syrup in plastic containers, the quart size sells better than all other sizes. If glass is chosen to hold maple syrup, the 12-ounce size will be the best seller, Bascom said.

If the pint size is the only option for glass, be aware that the syrup will appear very dark and even black, especially in bigger volumes such as the full pint or 2-pint bottles.

Going big

When deciding how to package large amounts of syrup to restaurants or bakeries consider your options. Most restaurants will order syrup in gallon cans since the wait staff can decant that size better than larger packages.

Leader Evaporator’s Gillilan adds that plastic is common when syrup is sold to restaurants.

When selling syrup to bakeries, “The syrup can be put into 5-gallon cans, 30-gallon drums, 55-gallon drums or 300-gallon drums. The 55-gallon size is the most popular among bakeries,” Gillilan said, adding the 5-gallon can is not common as it does not hold a suitable amount of syrup for bakeries.

When choosing the material for a large-volume container, understand that poly is most common and can adequately keep syrup fresh. Bascom added that with the large-volume shipments of syrup, shipping is almost always one-way. Once the bakery or restaurant gets the syrup they do not return the drums or cans when empty.

Although Bascom and most other maple syrup bottling companies do not offer inscribed bottles, some companies do offer such a service, though it costs more – sometimes double the price. Typically, it is recommended that this option only be considered for specialty bottles or custom-ordered bottles, not large-quantity shipments.

Another consideration is that inscribing a bottle limits the decor and colors available to decorate the bottle. With a standard label, you have a much wider range of colors and art options compared with inscribing a bottle.

Capping it off

When deciding on bottle caps options are limited. According to Bascom, there are two main types of bottle caps: a drop-lock cap with tear-off plastic on the outside or a plastic cap with an inside seal.

When considering capping glass bottles, the drop-lock cap with the tear-off seal on the outside is the most popular. Plastic containers usually use the second option for caps. The plastic cap comes with a seal on the inside.

Bascom recommends the first option, or the drop-lock cap, noting that it provides a better seal and tampering is easily noticeable with the outside plastic wrap.

The drop-lock cap is used mainly for glass bottles and the plastic cap is used for the plastic containers such as the container and cap combo that can be found on everything from mass-market product like Aunt Jemima syrup to locally produced product.

Choosing a bottling style for maple syrup ultimately comes down to the market. If the market is boutique stores catering to customers who buy small amounts, glass bottles or the maple leaf style bottle with a drop-lock cap in the 12-ounce size may be the best option. If syrup will be sold across the nation in supermarkets, plastic bottles with plastic caps in the quart size will sell best.

The market will help determine every possible variable of container.