American comedian Brian Regan does a bit in which he asks, to paraphrase, “What’s up with the cranberry? It’s finding its way into everything. Back off, cranberry man.” When comedians make fun of your ubiquity, you know your product is embedded in popular culture.
There is a single company behind the “cranberry man”—Ocean Spray, a legitimate iconic American brand. Over 75 years old, Ocean Spray is unique in the beverage industry. It is a giant cooperative owned by about 650 cranberry growers throughout North America (plus about 100 grapefruit growers).
Ocean Spray is unique in another way, too: From the beginning, Ocean Spray built its entire business around a single fruit, the cranberry. While it added grapefruit in 1976, the name “Ocean Spray” remains synonymous with cranberry, and it represents what has become a virtual cranberry monopoly.
The story begins with three cranberry growers from Massachusetts and New Jersey who, according to the company, wanted to expand the market for their crop. Ocean Spray’s flagship product, Cranberry Juice Cocktail (which sweetens the tartness of the cranberry with sugar) was introduced in 1930.
But it is continuous brand expansion that keeps Ocean Spray ahead of the game. In 1963, for example, Ocean Spray introduced “Cran-Apple,” the industry’s first blended juice drink. In 1993, “Craisins” Sweetened Dried Cranberries came to market. In every case, Ocean Spray has managed to find yet another creative way to package the cranberry. These permutations go well beyond the traditional Thanksgiving Day cranberry sauce—once the only acknowledged application of the little fruit.
Along the way, it didn’t hurt that the cranberry took on the aura of a healthberry as well. The cranberry has developed a reputation as somewhat of a miracle fruit when it comes to the health of the urinary tract, for example. It has also been associated with positive effects on the gastrointestinal tract and on oral health. In January 2008, Ocean Spray said that a report published in Nutrition Reviews added reducing the risk of heart disease to the cranberry’s already impressive resume. This can be attributed, says the report, to a greater concentration of antioxidants than other commonly consumed fruit.
But it was good marketing that turned the cranberry into a brand. For several years, Ocean Spray ran an ad campaign called “Crave the Wave.” The “wave” referred to Ocean Spray’s wave-like logo, and the upbeat message portrayed a lot of young people drinking Ocean Spray juice drinks. One of the reasons for the campaign was the simple fact that the beverage category was brutally competitive. New products flooded the market, and juice had a hard time competing with soda, water, and sports drinks.
Ocean Spray also revamped its advertising message, moving away from “Crave the Wave” to a new theme. Ocean Spray’s ad agency, Arnold, says the current theme is intended to “celebrate and embrace its uniqueness as an authentic, grower-owned company that delivers great-tasting, healthy products that come ‘Straight from the Bog.’”
“Straight from the Bog” focuses on the cranberry, where it comes from, and who grows it. The theme plays out into a very human, approachable advertising campaign that depicts two cranberry growers standing in a bog, having humorous discussions about topics related to cranberries. The concept translates nicely into print advertising and online work. It is supported through on-site promotions such as the “Big Apple Bog,” which appeared in New York’s Rockefeller Center during the 2006 Thanksgiving season. Attendees could put on waders and get a first-hand look at a simulated cranberry bog.
Thankfully for Ocean Spray, the cranberry has an international audience. While consumers outside the United States may not always know what a cranberry is, they have come to know about its benefits, which are vigorously promoted by Ocean Spray International. The international division represents about one-quarter of the company’s total sales and operates in Africa, Asia/Pacific, Canada, the Caribbean, Central and South America, Europe, and the Middle East. Ocean Spray’s “Ingredient Technology Group” helps out by providing cranberry products to the food industry and commercial clients in almost thirty countries.
From the cranberry, and later the grapefruit, success has grown. Ocean Spray has been the best selling brand name in the shelf-stable juice drink category since 1981. The company had four straight years of overall domestic sales growth with an average of more than seven percent per year. It had a 26 percent rise in consumption of “Craisins.” And it posted fiscal 2007 gross sales of nearly US $1.7 billion.
Nice work, cranberry man.