By Tam Davis
Turkey Hill Sugar Bush Ltd, now based in Waterloo, is a Townships’ sweet success story, renowned across Canada and abroad for supplying premium quality pure maple syrup and related products since 1976.
Brian and Michael Herman told Tempo the story began in 1967 when their recently retired parents, Lloyd and Stephanie, bought 200 acres of farm and forest, including a sugar bush, on Mont Echo and Turkey Hill roads in Sutton, close to TBL. Michael recalls their first effort at making maple syrup the old way: “We used taps and buckets, a horse drawn wagon, our sugar shack and evaporator, to make our first batch in 1972, a very rainy season. We earned only $72.” Undaunted, Lloyd and Michael experimented with friends to develop new methods to process maple sap. “At that time Quebec maple sap was boiled down in wood-fired sugar shacks, packaged in unremarkable round tins and largely sold in dépanneurs. Our group were early pioneers of vacuum pipeline technology and founders of Brome County Maple Products which built a central sap boiling facility for local producers,” he explained.
Brian described Lloyd’s vision: “Our father was a marketing genius. His mantra ‘There will always be a market for the very best’, drove the business. In 1975 came his breakthrough idea to produce maple syrup chocolates. It raised the profile of maple syrup to a luxury gourmet product. In 1976 he founded Turkey Hill Sugar Bush to market the chocolates and “Turkey Hill” syrup bottled in decorative glass and ceramic containers. Product demand grew quickly. He promoted maple syrup as a powerful symbol and souvenir of Canada and as a naturally renewable product. In 1978 he concentrated on sales in duty free shops in major Canadian airports and high end souvenir and gift shops in tourist centres nationwide. This is still the main focus of the company.
In the 1980s Quebec sap producers reported their maple trees suffered from stunted growth and die back, caused by acid rain emissions from coal-fired plants based in U.S.A.’s coal belt. Foresters told farmers they could lose up to 65% of their maple bushes. Crucially, Michael, a spokesman for several environmental groups, was effective in convincing influential Congressmen and Senators to tackle the problem, leading to the passage of the USA Clean Air Act of 1990, which mandated a nationwide approach to reduce the disastrous effects of acid rain. Quebec’s maple bushes rebounded.
In 1993 the brothers moved operations to a new plant in Waterloo. Under Brian, his wife Donna and Michael’s leadership, the company has won numerous industry awards, including the Duty Free Association’s Supplier of the Year and Specialized Product awards in each of the last five years. Brian’s business acumen was key to the company making a series of successful expansions. Their syrup was even brought by Canadian astronauts to the Space Station.
Today the company is flourishing, buying on average one million pounds of premium syrup per year, 99 percent from registered Quebec suppliers. Turkey Hill tests all syrup to ensure it is premium quality, based on its purity, colour, density and flavour. Gross sales averaged over $10 million per year over the last eight years, 80% in Canada and 20% in Europe and Asia. The Herman family credits much of their success to their dedicated, hardworking staff.
What plans are ahead? In 2017 the brothers sold the company to a group of venture capital investors who intend to maintain the company as the best maple syrup producer in Canada. They plan to invest substantial funds to expand production capacity by opening a new 50,000 sq. ft. plant in Granby in the near future and to attain HASIP certification. Lloyd and Stephanie Herman would approve.