While the COVID-19 pandemic has led to the closure of a quarter of Quebec’s 200 sugar shacks, an online platform, Ma cabane à la Maison, launched Feb. 22, has reinvented the sugar shack experience and prevented other businesses from closing.
For the Chalet des Érables sugar shack, north of Montreal, and more than 70 other sugar shacks across Quebec, the site has kept the businesses operating during these difficult times.
The province’s 100-year-long love affair with maple syrup usually generates more than $300 million in annual revenue for sugar shacks, according to the Association des Salles de receptions et Érablières du Québec (ASEQC). But the industry suffered a revenue drop of over 90 per cent in 2020 due to the pandemic, according to the ASEQC.
The ASEQC estimates that the online platform will generate $10 million in revenue for participating businesses over an eight-week period. The platform offers Quebecers the choice among a variety of menus among 70 sugar shacks. Once ordered, meals can be picked up at any of the 196 participating Metro grocery stores.
Stéphanie Laurin, from Chalet des Érables, said she wasn’t convinced the online platform would have such a positive impact on the industry but is now excited about how quickly people changed their sugar-season tradition.
“When people go to the sugar shack, it’s for the experience, to spend a day with the family. We see our uncles, our aunts, our grandchildren and we all share a meal,” Laurin said.
“But Quebecers have understood the message that if we want to reopen the sugar shacks one day, we must order online this year.”
Laurin, who is also president of the ASEQ, indicated that the Easter weekend was by far the most profitable period since the launch of the initiative. By April 10, Ma Cabane à la Maison will have delivered 100,000 orders, with an average of three meals per order, Laurin said. “We will soon reach more than two million visits on our platform.”
For Denise Grégoire, owner of the Constantin Grégoire sugar shack east of Montreal, the number of meals produced for Easter this year does not compare to the 1,200 customers she normally welcomes every weekend of Easter. But, she said, the platform gave her the motivation to continue.
“Last year we had to close our doors,” Grégoire said. “So last weekend we weren’t expecting to cook so many meals. It was crazy.”
After April 18, Metro grocery stores will stop stocking meals, but Quebecers will still be able to pick up Ma Cabane à la Maison orders directly from the sugar shacks or have them delivered.