[MUSIC PLAYING] AARON WIGHTMAN: So as the maple industry has grown and evolved, we've identified new research needs. And Cornell has a long history of doing maple syrup research. And with these changes in the industry, we've had to adapt those to that growth.
Based on USDA statistics, sales were about $30 million last year. However, that doesn't capture the full amount of economic activity that's generated by maple. And so I think the benefits extend beyond those raw numbers right now. It gets people thinking about what the capacity is to grow food in New York. And that's really important too.
BECCA HOLSCHER: So when we first began, we were mainly just going to make maple syrup for both sales. But the bulk market changes a lot. And it can often become quite saturated on good years. And so we wanted a way to have products that had a higher profit margin that kind of equaled out our sales throughout the year.
And so retail options seemed like the way to go. And maple sodas are something that you don't see very often. So they're their own little niche.
Cornell helped a lot with the research and coming up with the actual recipe. You kind of just think you make a recipe, it tastes good, and then you'll sell it. But there's more to go into it, especially once you bottle it and tell people that it's safe to be kept on the shelf. It needs to be proven. And so that process can be a little bit complicated.
AARON WIGHTMAN: Maple sap can be transformed into a lot of different products. And because it's a sustainably locally produced product, it has a lot of appeal. And it can add value to a whole range of different products. And that's coincided with consumers wanting locally produced, sustainably produced, and healthy sweeteners in their diet.
One thing we are doing at the Cornell Maple program is focusing on doing the early stages of new Product development, including literature research, pilot trials, connecting with experts in our food venture center and other departments at Cornell. And we can take something like maple chocolate for instance, and shepherd it through the early phases of what works, what doesn't, what are the best practices for using maple sugar and producing chocolate. And then we can connect with collaborators.
CLAIRE BENJAMIN: Groupware is all about farm to table, supporting local farmers. It's really a privilege to work with the Cornell Maple program. We constantly are communicating with each other step by step. We're exchanging thoughts and ideas.
I'm going to start with individually testing out all the beans. Find their flavor profile that will complement the maple. I've used maple sugar before. But this one specifically, has a very deep complex flavor to it that you know it's maple. But it's special.
AARON WIGHTMAN: That's something we're doing in a whole range of products. We've worked with maple wine, maple beer, kombucha, chocolate, marshmallows. And by crossing those initial hurdles to new product development, we can then take all the information that we generate and push it out into the public domain. And it's more likely that it will be adopted by both food and beverage manufacturers and maple producers and put into mass production.
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Aaron Wightman, co-director of Cornell's Maple Research facility discusses Cornell's research and working with independent producers to create new products in the maple industry.