ST-LOUIS-DE-BLANDFORD, Quebec -- Police in Quebec were following the scent of something sweet – millions of dollars' worth of maple syrup missing from a large warehouse stocking over $30 million worth of the amber nectar.
The theft puts a cavity-sized dent in Quebec's syrup stock, considered to be a global strategic reserve of the sweet stuff that is often used to replenish markets during disappointing seasons. Quebec produces up to 80 percent of the world's maple syrup.
Quebec Provincial Sgt. Claude Denis said Friday it was too soon to determine the exact quantity or value of the maple syrup stolen from the St. Louis-De-Blandford facility where over 10 million pounds (4.54 million kilograms) is stored.
The Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers said it discovered the missing syrup last week during a routine inventory where empty barrels were found at the site at St-Louis-de-Blandford, Quebec. Officials initially kept the news quiet, hoping it would help police solve the crime.
Anne-Marie Granger Godbout, the executive director of the federation, said that while it isn't unusual for individual maple syrup producers to have stock stolen, having millions worth of syrup stolen is "unusual".
"It's the first time something like this has happened," she said. "We've never seen a robbery of this magnitude."
She said the disappearance of the stock wasn't obvious at first in the huge warehouse. The facility alone houses nearly the equivalent of half the entire U.S. production of maple syrup in a year, she said.
"The U.S. market is the main market for maple syrup, about 75 percent of Canadian maple syrup is directly exported to the U.S.," she said. She noted the theft was particularly ill-timed after a disappointing 2012 season for U.S. producers, triggering more demand for Canadian syrup.
She said auditors would require a few more days to determine how many of the 45-gallon barrels have been emptied.
Theft of stock at the individual producer level prompted the industry in Quebec to group inventory in locations such as this, Granger Godbout said.
Associated Press Writer Phil Couvrette contributed to this report from Ottawa, Ontario.