PACIFIC COUNTY — Cranberries have been an important commodity along Washington coast for more than a century, in time earning the area the nickname “Cranberry Coast.” Today, more than 100 of Ocean Spray’s co-op of 700 growers are in Washington. Recent upgrades at a local processing plant will soon allow customers to savor this coastal berry in another form.
“People have always been able to drink cranberry juice from the Long Beach area, but after this next harvest when you buy Craisins, chances are, some of the berries came from Long Beach,” Ocean Spray spokewoman Kellyanne Dignan said. Equipment upgrades at Markham plant in Aberdeen are the reason why.
“The fruit needs to be a certain size for “Craisins,” so it has to be sorted in a certain way and we now will have that ability,” Dignan said.
“We didn’t have the proper sizing equipment to run it through the dry cranberry lines at the Markham facility, but starting with the 2017 harvest we will be able to sort the fruit so it can be used to make Craisins as well.”
History of innovation
Following the release of jellied cranberry sauce in the 1930s, redefining the use and cranberries has been a continual thread for Ocean Spray. In 1963, Cran-Apple, the industry’s first juice blend, was introduced. Since then, the company routinely introduced new products to keep cranberry interest and consumption strong among consumers. In 1976, the co-op expanded to include grapefruit growers in Florida.
In 1993, Craisins — a sweetened, dried cranberry — was introduced and have become increasingly popular. In the mid 2000s, Diet Ocean Spray and energy juice drinks were introduced to the market. In January, “Mocktails,” non-alcoholic drinks inspired by cocktails were announced, continuing Ocean Spray’s tradition of innovation.
“It’s a juice that’s designed to be drank at night,” Dignan said, detailing the juice’s distinct difference. Flavors include Cranberry Sangria, Cranberry Peach Bellini and Tropical Citrus Paradise, which Dignan described as a sophisticated juice designed to replace the cocktail experience.
“The idea is that these are something you would want to drink when you get home from work,” she said. The idea for cranberry-inspired juices replacing cocktails initially came from consumers who choose to drink their juice a little differently. Targeting the time of day consumers crave cranberry products has been a focus of research for potential new products.
“We heard from consumers that they often put cranberry juice in a wine glass when they drink it at night,” Dignan said. Soon, the “Mocktails” line was developed.
The pineapple-cranberry juice blend first hit store shelves in September, but a recent national advertising campaign has ramped up exposure.
“Since we put the ad on the air, which we did around the second week of January, we’ve seen a dramatic uptick in people purchasing the product,” Dignan said.
“It’s still early, but it’s been a really successful launch of Cran-Pineapple, which follows up on a successful launch of our last blend Cran-Mango, which was also very popular.” Ocean Spray is optimistic about the potential of the new product after a “very strong” initial consumer response, according to Dignan.
“Any way we can find to innovate or introduce cranberries to new consumers or the same consumers in a different way, that’s the sole reason Ocean Spray exists,” Dignan said.
Not every new Ocean Spray product is a resounding success. “PACt,” a cranberry-extract water “packed with the power of 50 cranberries,” and billed as better alternative to water “to help cleanse and purify the body,” hasn’t had the initial commercial success of the juice-blend counterparts.
“I don’t think any have totally bombed, but we have had an evolution around our PACt line,” Dignan said. “One of the areas that we’ve spent a lot of time reworking over the past few years are some of our diet options.”
Cranberry glut continues
The new juice products will have little impact on the global glut in cranberry concentrate.
“There is a lot of concentrate supply currently available, and those number numbers remain high,” Dignan said. While sales have been strong for juice blends, the new flavors will ultimately have little impact on the overall global glut.
“Any innovation around juice is good for cranberries, but the production has grown beyond what one new flavor launch would effect,” Dignan said. Nearly all cranberries become juice, but far fewer become Craisins.
“Most fruit becomes juice because the process of creating Craisins produces juice as well,” Dignan said.