Wednesday February 20, 2013

"What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet."

We all recognize this famous line from William Shakespeare’s iconic play, "Romeo and Juliet." And we’re all familiar with the meaning behind it: What matters is what something is, not what it is called.

This is something to keep in mind as Vermont lawmakers debate whether or not to drop the state’s traditional maple labeling system in favor of an international one. Granted, this is not exacting one of the most pressing matters of our time, but to people who make and earn a living from maple syrup it is an important issue.

The change pits tradition versus a desire to be a bigger player in world markets, according to an Associated Press report. Vermont is the No. 1 maple syrup producer in the United States, but its unique labeling standards put it at odds with the other big producers, including Canada.

The state Senate last week passed and sent to the House a measure to drop fancy, grade A medium amber, dark amber and grade B. In their place would be several types sharing a grade A label, with descriptive phrases following: golden color and delicate taste; amber color and rich taste; dark color and robust taste; very dark color and strong taste.

Some are against the change, arguing that the unique labeling helps set Vermont syrup apart as the best in the world.


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However, taking our cue from Shakespeare, we would argue that it’s the taste that sets our syrup apart, not the labeling. And State Agriculture Secretary Chuck Ross said that separate labeling only leads to consumer confusion.

Thanks to improvements in technology and growing interest by landowners, Vermont’s syrup production has roughly doubled in the past decade, to the extent that supply vastly exceeds any demand that would come from a state of about 626,000, the AP reports.

"What’s become clear is that the majority of syrup produced in the state of Vermont is sold in national and international markets," Ross said.

He noted that Vermont will maintain its distinct branding by labeling its syrup as coming from the Green Mountain State. Connoisseurs will continue to appreciate that Vermont regulations will continue to require boiling sap for longer than is the case elsewhere, producing a slightly denser product.

That’s what helps give Vermont maple syrup it superior flavor that is world renown, and using that marketing hook will help us compete on the national and international scene.