Long Beach, Wash. - The future of the cranberry industry depends on renewing the public's hunger for the tart fruit.
Marketing strategies which could create a larger market for cranberry-containing product are seen as a major factor in reviving the industry.
"Obviously, we wouldn't be spending money while we are in debt if we didn't think the industry was coming back some time in the future," said Malcolm McPhail, one of the state's 130 cranberry growers. McPhail operates one of the largest cranberry operations in the state.
McPhail and the majority of the state's cranberry growers have been struggling to stay afloat since prices per barrel for cranberries bottomed out in the late '90s. Although prices are rebounding slowly, the future of the industry hinges on the public's demand for products containing cranberries, according to Kim Patten, an associate professor of horticulture at the Washington State University Long Beach Research Extension Unit.
"There's the whole thing about competing with giants like Coke, Pepsi and Seagrams," said Patten. "The juice market is a very competitive market."
Patten said cranberry juice has a lot of potential, particularly because of its "nutripseutical" properties, such as being an excellent antioxidant.
He said once the curative and health benefits of cranberries become more known, a renewed interest in cranberries is a distinct possibility in the future.
"It's a remarkable fruit," Patten said. "Once this knowledge is more public, which is the goal of Ocean Spray and everyone else in the industry, it can be used to help market the product. If this is successful, it will bring back the industry."
This will not happen overnight, he said, which is why marketing strategies are critical right now.
"The best thing we can do to help our grower/owners is come up with new products and invigorate the market," said Sharon Newcomb, an Ocean Spray public relations associate. "We had been stagnant for a while, in terms of products that had been around for some time. In the last two years we have been adding more products in the juice aisle."
According to Newcomb, white cranberry juice sales are actually boosting overall cranberry sales by creating more interest in cranberry juices of all types.
In the United States, Ocean Spray's fiscal 2001 gross sales were in excess of $1.3 billion. Formed in 1930, Ocean Spray is made up of 804 cranberry growers from Washington, Massachusetts, Wisconsin, New Jersey, Oregon, British Columbia and other parts of Canada, as well as 126 Florida grapefruit growers. The company employs some 2,200 people worldwide.