Transformation was underway for the nearly 150-year-old, family-owned Jakeman’s maple syrup business near Woodstock in the months before the pandemic.
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The resulting turmoil could have damaged a less resilient operation but, according to company CEO Chad Jakeman, the ability to think outside the box helped the business weather the COVID-19 storm.
Jakeman’s, which has been making syrup since 1876, once boasted thousands of taps but during the ownership transition to Chad’s generation, the primary production side was almost all contracted out, except for about 200 taps on his uncle Bruce Jakeman’s property near the main bottling facility.
The family became Ontario’s largest maple packer, receiving syrup from producers across Ontario and processing it into a range of products.
In March 2020, it opened a new bottling facility with certifications allowing it to provide private-label maple products to retailers around the world. There was hope the company could help Ontario maple products take advantage of growth opportunities that had, until then, usually been realized by dominant Quebec-based counterparts.
But COVID-19 revealed that most customers shared a common thread: tourism. Almost overnight, demand for tourist-targeted packaging disappeared, replaced by demand for packaging conducive to home consumption.
Jakeman said the new bottling facility allowed the company to respond.
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“We had to diversify to get into the grocery stores,” he said. The business now supplies approximately 1,200 stores across Canada, the U.S. and the United Kingdom.
Three years later, the tourist-centred maple trade has resumed. Jakeman’s was ready. It celebrated the start of 2023 by opening an expansion to the bottling line. Jakeman said the business bought the equipment almost a year ago but didn’t install it until the recent Christmas holidays.
The expansion will allow the company to increase its tourist-centred production without cutting back on the still-strong grocery packaging. It will also allow Jakemans to brainstorm about what might be “the next big thing in maple,” including the current craze of granulated maple sugar.
“We’re always thinking about what’s the next thing we can get into.”
In March, 4-H clubs from the area host their 16th annual Pancake House at Jakeman’s. A fundraiser for 4-H programs, it runs March 4, 5, 11, 12, 15, 18, 19, 25, 26 and April 1,2, with club members serving meals from 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
Local artisans and crafters will also be on site during the Pancake House.