Maple Grove Farms of Vermont
Maple Grove Farms of Vermont
1052 Portland Street
Saint Johnsbury, Vermont 05819
Telephone: (802) 748-5141
Fax: (802) 748-9647
Web site: http://www.maplegrove.com
Wholly Owned Subsidiary of B&G Foods, Inc.
Incorporated: 1915 as Maple Grove Candies, Inc.
Sales: $75 million (2006 est.)
NAIC: 311423 Dried and Dehydrated Food Manufacturing 3111421 Fruit and Vegetable Canning; 311822 Flour Mixes and Dough Manufacturing from Purchase Flour; 311930 Flavoring Syrup and Concentrate Manufacturing
A subsidiary of B&G Foods, Inc., Maple Grove Farms of Vermont is one of the United States’ largest packers of pure maple syrup, supplied by both local farmers and Canadian sources. The Saint Johnsbury, Vermont, based company offers 100 percent pure grade maple syrup in both plastic jugs and traditional tins; a line of all-natural fruit syrups; a wide variety of maple candy; maple cream cookies; salad dressings that incorporate pure maple syrup; pancake and waffle mixes; breakfast packs that combine the company’s syrup with boxes of pancake and waffle mixes; and maple cream and blended maple spreads along with other fancy fruit spreads and preserves. In addition, the company offers sugar-free maple syrups, salad dressings, marinades and basting sauces, and pancake and waffle mix (also available in a gluten-free formulation).
In recent years, Maple Grove has created an organics label for a line of organic syrups, pancake and waffle mix, and salad dressings. Maple Grove Farms products are found in supermarkets throughout the United States and are sold online. They are also made available to foodservice and institutional customers as well as to corporations for gift giving programs. From May until Christmas, the company’s factory is open to the public for tours. The adjacent Sugar House Museum details the “sugaring” experience.
NATIVE AMERICANS INTRODUCE MAPLE SYRUP
Like corn and tobacco, maple syrup was introduced to Europeans by the indigenous people of North America. The Northeastern tribes called it “sweet buds” and used it to sweeten tea and flavor breads, stews, and vegetables. They also traded maple sugar with the European colonists for other goods. Finding the taste of maple syrup and sugar just as delicious as the Native Americans, the colonists in the 1600s were eager to learn the secret of its manufacture. Although lost in time, the origins were undoubtedly accidental. According to an Iroquois legend, a chief named Woksis wedged his tomahawk in the trunk of a maple tree near his campfire for safekeeping. After he removed it, the gash that was left in the tree caused the clear sap of the tree to drip into a bark vessel that was by chance positioned below. The following day the vessel was full of sap, and his wife, mistaking it for water, put it on the fire to cook a venison stew. As the sap boiled down to create pure maple syrup, it produced a noticeable aroma that caught the chief’s attention when he returned home, and that night he was further pleased by the resulting sweet taste of his stew. His people began to tap the trees and boil down the sap intentionally.
Maple syrup production is limited to a section of hardwood forest that stretches from the Maritimes of Canada to the United States’ Midwest. The sugaring period is also limited in time, a variable period of the spring when the nights are below freezing but the days are warm, when the sap that was frozen during the winter thaws and begins to be drawn through the tree to begin a new year of growth. Generally maple trees need to be about 30 years old to be large enough to be tapped. The Native Americans cut notches in the trunk a couple of inches deep and a wooden trough was inserted, angled downward over a bowl. The sap was then collected and boiled to be reduced into syrup, with as much as 40 gallons of sap needed to produce one gallon of syrup. Little has changed over the centuries, although taps are now made of plastic and buckets from metal. Maple syrup became a staple of both the United States and Canada, preferred over cane sugar, raw sugar, or molasses well into the 1800s.
Katharine Ide Gray, her daughter Helen, and Helen’s friend Ethel McLaren founded Maple Grove Farms in 1915. Helen at the time was studying home economics at Columbia University in New York, where her professor urged the students to apply at home what they learned in the classroom. During her summer vacation, Helen took the suggestion to heart and decided to try her hand at making candy from maple sugar at the family farm. She enlisted her mother as well as McLaren, and together they developed some recipes that produced exceptional candy. Hearing rumors that the ladies were in the candy making business, a neighbor, Mrs. Henry Fairbanks, placed an unsolicited order. That first box of candy led the partners to create a makeshift candy kitchen out of a shed to meet the developing demand for their product.
What had been primarily a diversion turned into a growing business, Maple Grove Candies, Inc., with Katharine Gray serving as its president. The farm operation was steadily expanded and workers were hired, but after four years it was apparent that new accommodations were needed. After some scouting, the partners settled on the Governor Fairbanks mansion, “Pinehurst,” that was for sale in Saint Johnsbury. The town was already involved in the maple sugar industry. In 1904 George C. Cary established the Cary Maple Sugar Company in town and made his mark by selling maple sugar that was used to flavor plug tobacco. When cigarettes came into favor, the product was adapted as a moisturizer and flavoring agent.
Acquiring Pinehurst essentially forced Maple Grove to expand its operations and spend money on advertising to drive sales in order to meet the payments. The entrepreneurs also took advantage of other opportunities afforded by their new accommodations, converting the upstairs into guest rooms for what was called Maple Grove Inn. Other available space was used for the Maple Grove Tea Room. The back of the mansion was renovated to create a new and efficient candy-making operation. In addition to producing maple candy, the company added a variety of chocolates and branched into the manufacture of maple cream, maple sugar, and maple syrup.
The addition of these new maple products led to the acquisition of a processing plant in Essex Junction, Vermont, formerly run by the Vermont Farmers Cooperative Association. Maple Grove purchased syrup from local farmers, who delivered it to this facility. The operation was incorporated separately, known as Maple Grove Products of Vermont. Still not finished, Katharine Gray sought to improve the sister companies’ ability to market their wares. In the 1920s she formed a third company, Maple Grove Products, which established a restaurant and sales room in Manhattan to drive sales in the all-important New York City market. In 1929 the Gray family sold the business to Cary Maple Sugar and production was moved to its current site, a former brick plant located east of Saint Johnsbury.
Traditional sugaring methods did not change significantly until the 1970s. Networks of plastic tubing that connected large numbers of trees now replaced the old wooden buckets hanging from taps, and sap was mechanically sucked into large collection containers. Reverse osmosis was also used to remove as much as 80 percent of the water, thus greatly reducing the boiling time needed to produce pure maple syrup.
At Maple Grove Farms of Vermont, we have over 90 years of expertise in producing high quality food products.
Over the years, Maple Grove Inc. changed hands several times. In 1975 it was owned by Harold Whaley, who then sold it to a New York attorney who harbored entrepreneurial aspirations, William F. Callahan III. A graduate of Georgetown University and the Boston University Law School, Callahan worked as a trial attorney for the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission before turning his attention to business. Prior to acquiring Maple Grove, he served as vice-president of sales for the securities and investment firm Blyth, Eastman, Dillon & Company.
Maple Grove, Inc., changed its name to Maple Grove Farms of Vermont, Inc., in February 1985. It was around this time that New England suffered through three consecutive springs when maple producers failed to receive the kind of extended periods of cold nights and warm days needed to drive sap through the trees. As a result syrup production was cut in half and prices more than doubled to about $40 per gallon retail. Concerns arose about possible culprits, such as acid rain killing maple trees and global warming altering seasonal climate conditions, both of which might have devastating long-term effects on the maple syrup industry. In the short term, however, producers like Maple Grove benefited from firm prices and were at least able to gauge what consumers were willing to pay for pure maple syrup, which producers saw as a delicacy but was regarded by many as a mere commodity. In truth, very few consumers had even tasted pure maple syrup on pancakes or waffles because the supermarket shelves were crowded with breakfast syrup products that might have been doctored with a token amount of maple syrup, which, more often than not, was dyed, maplef-lavored corn syrup.
The difficulty in procuring large quantities of sap, especially sap of a high grade, caused other problems for Maple Grove. The company was accused by the Vermont Department of Agriculture of mislabeling some of its syrup and maple candy in 1987 and 1988, and the matter was referred to the attorney general’s office. The syrup was found to have been misgraded, below grade, or artificially darkened, while what was labeled “pure Vermont maple candy” included cane sugar. In the end Maple Grove reached a settlement with the state in which it neither admitted nor denied any wrongdoing, but agreed to reimburse the Department of Agriculture $10,000 for the cost of its investigation and make a $15,000 donation to the University of Vermont, earmarked for maple research.
Maple Grove began to diversify beyond the maple candy that launched the company and the pure maple syrup that had become its flagship product. It added salad dressings, steak and barbecue sauces, fruit syrups, and pancake and waffle mixes. In 1993 Maple Grove introduced a sugar-free maple syrup, fulfilling the many requests the company had received from healthconscious consumers, while also meeting the requirements of diabetics. In the mid-1990s the company developed a line of lite and fat-free products, including salad dressings and fat-free Belgian Waffle Mix.
In 1998 Callahan decided to sell Maple Grove to B&G Foods, Inc., for about $20 million, according to press reports. Although less than two years old, New Jersey-based B&G had already acquired a number of specialty food brands. It took its name from one of them, Bloch & Guggenheimer, founded in New York City in 1889 and best known for B&G Pickles. In the mid-1980s the Dutch conglomerate Artal NV acquired Bloch & Guggenheimer, and in 1989 a former Johnson & Johnson executive, David Wenner, was installed as president. In the early 1990s, Artal began to divest itself of some food assets, and B&G was among those sold to Specialty Foods, created by a group of investors led by Texas billionaire Robert Bass. Wenner became a Specialty Foods executive.
The company struggled, however, and in 1996 many of its brands were put up for sale. Wenner and Leonard S. Polaner, who ran M. Polaner, Inc., for Specialty Foods, along with New York investors, formed B&G Foods in November 1996 to acquire B&G and the Specialty Foods’ Burns & Ricker, Inc., subsidiary, which produced bagel chips, pita crisps, biscotti, and crispini. Polaner assumed the chairmanship while Wenner ran the company as president and chief executive officer.
- Maple Grove Candies, Inc., established in Vermont.
- William F. Callahan III acquires company.
- Name changed to Maple Grove Farms of Vermont.
- B&G Foods, Inc., acquires company.
- “Vermont” removed from label.
Several months later, they added to their portfolio by acquiring four brands from Nabisco: Regina wine vinegars; Brer Rabbit molasses and syrups; Wright’s liquid smoke hickory flavoring; and Vermont Maid Syrup. With Vermont Maid in the fold, the acquisition of Maple Grove was a natural extension. Moreover, the addition of Maple Grove provided B&G with a network of specialty distributors that could benefit the other brands. In addition to the United States, Maple Grove exported its products to Denmark, England, Greece, Korea, and Mexico. Wenner took over as president of Maple Grove and Callahan assumed a place on B&G’s board of directors.
Under B&G’s ownership, Maple Grove increased its revenues to $50 million in 2000. Strong growth continued, and sales jumped to $65 million two years later. Although the company continued to promote its Vermont heritage, it was now packing syrup provided by farmers from Maine, New Hampshire, New York, and Quebec, Canada. “We are still a Vermont company, Vermont values, even though we’ve grown surprisingly,” general manager Steve Jones told Vermont Business Magazine. “We take great efforts to make our products with all natural ingredients, and make them in small batches.” The company struggled to meet Vermont’s stringent labeling law, however. In 2003 it was fined $10,000 for distributing Canadian maple syrup under its Up Country Naturals of Vermont brand, a violation of a state law that required a product to contain 100 percent maple syrup and be produced entirely in the state in order to be labeled as produced in Vermont. The product stated that it was a product of Canada on the back label, and the company contended that the front label had been placed in error.
Vermont’s labeling became even stricter in 2006. Rather than noting the U.S. grade or touted as amber or fancy, Vermont maple syrup had to be labeled as Vermont grade. Moreover, the label had to state clearly where the syrup came from. The new requirements ensured that visitors to Vermont were certain they were buying Vermont syrup, an important consideration for the tourist trade but less so for Maple Grove, which did most of it business outside of the state and whose customers were generally interested in buying pure maple syrup and did not particularly care that the trees producing the sap were located in Vermont or elsewhere in the northeast. To stay within the rules, Maple Grove dropped Vermont from its label, shortening the brand name to Maple Grove Farms.
PRINCIPAL OPERATING UNITS
Maple Grove Farms; Maple Grove Organics.
Shady Maple Farm; Spring Tree Maple Products; The Quaker Oats Company.
Greer, Lois Goodwin, “Katharine Ide Gray: An Eminent Vermonter Exalted,” Vermonter, 1927, Vol. 32.
Hammonds, Keith H., “Bittersweet Days in Maple Syrup Land,” Business Week, June 20, 1988, p. 38D.
Hedbor, Eloise, “Maple Grove Farms Bought by B&G,” Vermont Business Magazine, August 1, 1998, p. 50.
Houle, Barbara M., “Maple Sugaring Big Business,” Worcester Telegram & Gazette, March 2, 1994, p. C1.
Kirka, Danica, “St. Johnsbury Producer Fines As Part of Settlement,” Associated Press, August 2, 1988.
Rathke, Lisa, “New Rules Require Origin of Syrup on Label,” Associated Press, February 6, 2006.
“Sweet Company Evolves,” Vermont Business Magazine, January 1, 2004, p. 59.