The number of residential and institutional facilities choosing to heat their buildings with wood pellet-fuelled boiler systems and wood stoves in the province have been steady or growing in recent years; so it comes as no surprise to hear that close to 60 per cent of the 90,000 tons of wood pellets produced annually at Groupe Savoie’s pellet plant in Saint-Quentin, N.B. go towards satisfying the needs of the domestic market in the province (the remaining production is shipped overseas for the European industrial grade pellet market).
But it might surprise you to hear that 2,500 tons of those domestic wood pellets are used to fuel one of the region’s most popular and valuable commodities: maple syrup.
Groupe Savoie’s seven-year-old wood pellet operation fills orders for maple syrup producers throughout Quebec and New Brunswick.
Jonathan Levesque, vice-president of sales and development for Groupe Savoie, says the maple syrup industry is a good fit for the wood pellet operation, which received its first order for pellets from a maple syrup producer with close family ties to the company.
“We started with my uncle as our first customer about five years ago,” Levesque says, adding that the maple syrup industry helps balance supply and demand for local wood pellets because producers require a large percentage of their pellets in the summertime when the pellets are otherwise in low demand.
“All these people have silos so we fill them in the summer when the roads are easier to access so they have their season’s supply ready before the season starts,” Levesque explains.
Syrup for the people
Not only does the specialty hardwood products company fill orders for wood pellets for maple syrup producers in Quebec and New Brunswick, but Jean-Claude Savoie, chairman and CEO of Groupe Savoie also produces it as a hobby, for a good cause.
“When we started 12 years ago producing maple syrup, we were giving it all away – friends, customers, family,” recalls Jean-Claude, during a tour of his maple syrup operation in Saint-Quentin. “Eventually people started asking for it, so we thought maybe we can get a few dollars for it.”
Instead of keeping all the profits, Jean-Claude decided to do something noble with the proceeds from his sticky venture and donate every dollar from the sales to Fondation Hector Savoie, a charity that assists low-income families in northwestern New Brunswick.
“We use the funds to mostly help sick people,” Jean-Claude explains. “For example, if you go to Moncton to get treatment for cancer, the government will pay for the treatment but nothing else. So the travel, the food, the hotels, we subsidize for people. We also have quite a few motorized wheelchairs for people that can’t move around. We also buy food stamps for the kids at school so they can buy lunch.”
Last year Groupe Savoie’s maple syrup sales raised over $10,000 for the foundation.
The sap is collected from up in the mountains on Jean-Claude’s 400-acre property from 900 tapped maple trees that fill a tank near the bottom of the mountain. He then transports the tank via tractor over to his sugar shack where the sap is transferred to the evaporation tank to start the syrup process.
Groupe Savoie decided to brand its maple syrup “Savoie être bon” or “Savoie is good” in English.
With all the proceeds from the syrup sales going to help low-income families and others in need throughout the region, it would be hard to argue that fact. Savoie être bon, indeed.