C&B Notes

Canadian Maple Syrup Heist

Headline writers and reporters have had a pun time with this story (“sticky situation” seems to be a favorite), but this truly is a bizarre case: the theft of the equivalent of 15,000 barrels of syrup.  How did they transport the syrup?  How long did it take to complete the theft?  How will they sell the syrup in such a relatively small market?  Was this an inside job?  Did the syrup ever actually exist and is this instead a strategic insurance claim?

But few appreciate the strategic value of boiled sap like the people of Quebec.  Canada’s francophone province is the Saudi Arabia of the syrup world, producing some three-quarters of the world’s output.  With the global market under stress — U.S. production is down 32 percent this year to 1.91 million gallons, according to the Department of Agriculture (PDF) — perhaps it was only a matter of time before thieves targeted Quebec’s rich reserves.

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So imagine the surprise when a “routine inventory check,” as the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers (FPAQ) calls it, revealed evidence of a massive heist.  Row after row of barrels were empty, filled with nothing but sweet-smelling Quebec air.   Now it’s the federation that has some explaining to do.  These are the protectors of the sap, the maple barons who have an OPEC-like sway in syrup circles and represent some 13,500 producers.  Along with handling bulk syrup sales and marketing, the federation is responsible for what it calls the “global strategic maple syrup reserves.”  Much like oil reserves, those backup supplies are supposed to protect against the vagaries of bad weather and volatile prices.  Last week, everyone thought Quebec was heading into the winter with 37 million pounds in reserve.  More than a quarter of that is now gone.

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Trouble is, unlike laundered money, maple syrup doesn’t come with a serial number.  In fact, food is proving to be a remarkably easy commodity to steal.  Bristol Voss of Minyanville notes that, in Canada alone, thieves have recently made off with a “football field’s worth” of potatoes, hives containing 3,600 kilograms of honey, 6,000 cattle, and 72,000 kilograms of chicken.  Anyone who loves maple syrup knows the real stuff needs more than just a lock and key.

We probably should have resisted the temptation, but we couldn’t help but share this (surprisingly) relevant clip from Wedding Crashers: