Ma Cabane à la Maison, an industry-wide sugar shack takeout scheme, is back for a second year running. And while rejoining sugar shacks remain ardent supporters of the meal box initiative, controversy surrounding the ownership of the Ma Cabane à la Maison trademark seems to have cost it some participants.
In 2021, a group of close to 70 sugar shacks boxed up spreads of baked beans, maple ham, and oreilles de crisse (deep-fried pork jowls) into Ma Cabane à la Maison-branded meal boxes, sold online. At this year’s relaunch, on February 16, roughly 50 sugar shacks are involved.
About 20 Quebec sugar shacks (or “cabanes à sucre,” in French) have decided to forego their participation in Ma Cabane à la Maison this year — and not just because indoor dining has resumed in time for peak sugaring season. According to a Radio-Canada report published on February 7, the owners of these sugar shacks claim to have been misled by the creators of the project.
Founders Stéphanie Laurin, president of the Association des salles de réception et érablières commerciales du Québec (ASEQC) and co-owner of the Chalet des Érables, and Sylvain Arsenault, president of marketing and communications agency Prospek, teamed up to launch Ma Cabane à la Maison last year when public health measures kept Quebec dining rooms closed for business. If action wasn’t taken, Laurin warned at the time, 75 percent of the province’s sugar shacks could go under.
But some sugar shack owners say they were surprised to find out, ahead of the 2022 sugaring season, that Laurin and Arsenault were claiming ownership of the Ma Cabane à la Maison trademark, which they believed belonged to ASEQC and its members. They told Radio-Canada that they were worried their participation last year might have unwittingly helped prop up a brand that could eventually become a competitor, siphoning off customers from their own operations.
Laurin told Radio-Canada that she disclosed her ownership of the brand to anyone who asked and maintains that the Ma Cabane à la Maison website, financed by the provincial government, belongs to the association, assuring that members can continue to use the brand — for free — to sell their products, for the next 15 years.
Forty-three sugar shacks have since penned a letter, titled “Nous Somme Ma Cabane à la Maison” (“We Are Ma Cabane à la Maison”), which comes to the defence of Laurin and Arsenault. In it, they describe their shock at the criticism being weighed against Laurin and Arsenault and argue that the initiative allowed them to preserve hundreds of jobs, sell a total of 110,000 meal boxes, and generate $11.5 million in cumulative sales. Without Laurin and Arsenault leading the charge and taking on the initial financial risk, they say, “this project would never have seen the light of day.”
Ma Cabane à la Maison meal boxes can be purchased online for pick-up at a sugar shack or Metro supermarket or, in some cases, for delivery.