Maple syrup is now a staple pancake topping in the UK - alongside lemon & sugar and chocolate spread. So suppliers should have been celebrating the traditional start of the season this week. But Pancake Day was not enough to assuage concerns that the market has still not completely bounced back from 2007 and 2008, when poor harvests sent volumes nosediving and prices rocketing.

Commodity prices eased last year as a result of bumper supplies from the world’s largest producer, Canada - where output hit 8.6 million gallons, up 17.6% on 2010 [Statistics Canada]. But retail prices remain high in the wake of successive poor harvests in 2007 and 2008 which prompted falls in production volumes of 13.4%, and 4.8% respectively.

Pure maple syrup rose from approximately $31 a gallon in 2007 to $52 a gallon in 2008 and despite an improved harvest last year, prices stood at $38.17 in 2011. To compound matters, currency fluctuations between the Canadian dollar and the pound have added about 30% to raw material prices since 2007, estimates the UK’s biggest branded maple syrup bottler, Clarks UK, which has a 55.6% volume share of the branded UK retail market [Nielsen].

On the plus side, although retail prices have not returned to pre-2007 levels, they haven’t risen sharply either, averaging now at between £1.24 and £2.18 per 100g - and this has enabled maple syrup to post healthy sales over the past year. Value sales are up 12.3%, to £9.8m, and unit volume sales are up by 14.3%, to 2.8m [24 Dec 2011, Nielsen]. Some of this growth has been driven by more affordable offerings such as Clarks’ maple syrup and carob blend, introduced to the UK in 2008.

It is forecasting growth of the blend to £1.6m in 2012, but while such products have helped bring costs down and new consumers into the category, questionmarks remain over whether consumers will trade back up to pure maple.