Can cranberries catch on in China?

Updated: 2013-10-18 06:10

By Chris Davis in New York (CHina Daily USA)

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It's a deep red berry used for food, dye and medicine. It's indigenous to North America only. It has become a mainstay of the annual US Thanksgiving Day feast. And many countries — including China — don't even have a name for it. But this year more than 2 million pounds of products from that bitter little berry — the cranberry — will be sent to China

"We currently have a pretty nice business in Taiwan, but we've really focused on China for the obvious reasons — it's such a large market," said.Ocean Spray COO Ken Romanzi. "We're really taking a city-by-city approach. Rather than try and tackle that huge country all at once."

The city approach means Beijing and Shanghai will be getting cranberry beverage and dried cranberry products from Ocean Spray, the 85-year-old company that has become synonymous in the United States with the cranberry. Based in Lakeville, Massachusetts, the company is really a cooperative co-owned by 600 cranberry farmers and 50 grapefruit farmers because it is also a leading grapefruit juice maker.

"They're more like trustees of the company," Romanzi said in an interview with China Daily. "Yet they own the brand, they own the company. We run the company for the farmers. The company is really their sales and marketing arm to sell their cranberries."

Cranberries are only grown in five US states (Massachusetts, New Jersey, Wisconsin, Oregon and Washington), in British Columbia and Quebec and now, thanks to Ocean Spray, in Chile, where the latitude is similar to New Jersey.

"Other than that there is no organized cranberry farming anywhere in the world," Romanzi said. "While it's 11 million barrels and 100 pounds to a barrel and that sounds like a lot, that's a very small crop in the big world of agriculture. It's totally dwarfed by things like apples, oranges and grapes."

Ocean Spray cranberries are included in more than 1,000 products in 50 countries, the company said. Still, Ocean Spray, whose two main products are juices and dried "Craisins" snack food, is expanding internationally.

"Our job is to take our growers' crop and market it and sell it in about a year. And our growers have been very productive over the last several years. So beyond our traditional markets we're now expanding into new geographies, because there are plenty of cranberries," Romanzi said.

Nine years ago, Ocean Spray had two production lines for dried cranberry products and produced 30 million pounds a year. Today they have nine production lines producing 200 million pounds annually.

"So we have been ramping up a new production line every year and a half," Romanzi said, adding that production lines run upwards of $40 million to set up.

According to a company spokesman, five years ago Ocean Spray had almost no exports to China. Right now in China it's more Craisins than juice. "We still have some work to do with the juice drinks," Romanzi said.

"We know that there has been a strong trend by Chinese consumers looking for healthier and good quality food and beverage products. Ocean Spray is a trusted US brand. We are cranberry and we have a very high reputation for quality," he said.

To aid marketing, Ocean Spray hosts sampling event s and master class cooking demonstrations to show how the tart "precious ruby from North America" can be integrated into Chinese recipes.

"We know that once people try the dried cranberry, they fall in love with it," Romanzi said.