Quebec-based company Nutra-Fruit is looking to develop a niche area in cranberries by creating high-end functional foods containing the nutritious berry, and sees large potential for expansion overseas.
Yolande Kougioumoutzakis and Jean-François Veilleux founded Nutra-Fruit in Quebec City, Canada, in 2006. Their finished cranberry products are now sold in over 300 locations throughout that province and are moving into the rest of Canada and the US.
In addition, the firm sees particular potential outside of North America.
The company's approach is a good example of the niche potential that still exists in the cranberry market, despite the ingredient now being mainstream in the juice and dried fruit categories.
For Nutra-Fruit markets neither juice nor dried fruit: its highest selling products have been salad dressings.
Nutra-Fruit said it is not trying to compete with the likes of Ocean Spray - which specialized in mass distribution. Instead, it is aiming for the upper echelon of products, targeting healthy-savvy consumers with well-honed taste buds.
The 23 products include cranberry coulis, tea, jellies, syrups, mustard and vinegar. Kougioumoutzakis claims the company is the first to produce a full line of products specializing in cranberry ingredients.
The cranberries used in the range are all sourced from Quebec; indeed, cranberries originate from North America. This, combined with marketing efforts, means consumers here are largely aware of the health benefits of the berries, however, this is not yet the case abroad, according to Kougioumoutzakis.
"In North America there is a high demand for cranberries, whereas it is just taking off in Europe," she said. "In Japan it is well known, along with blueberries and blackcurrant."
The company is in touch with distributors in Europe and Japan and intends to expand its presence by talking to potential clients directly at trade shows in both regions.
"In Europe and Japan, quality is the first issue for potential clients, not the price," said Kougioumoutzakis, based on her experience with these clients. "They haven't been asking the price."
In the US, Nutra-Fruit has a distribution deal planned with the Food Emporium, as well as possibly with retail chain A & P. It also says it has seen strong demand from distributors and retailers in California and Florida.
Though Nutra-Fruit's products are not labeled as 'all-natural', none of them have preservatives.
Consumers largely identify cranberry's healthy attributes as being its ability to help ward off urinary tract infections, but the berries also contain anti-oxidants and are said to be good for heart health and to reduce ulcers and gum disease.
In the US, the berries hold no health claims, but cranberry giant Ocean Spray has in large part carried the message through to consumers via awareness campaigns that do not form part of its direct product or juice ads.
While Nutra-Fruit develops functional products, it relies on existing consumer knowledge of cranberries and does not put nutritional information on its labels. Nutrition labeling regulations are stricter still in Canada than in the US.
"We can't mark that it is anti-oxidant, so we put very little nutrition information on it - we rely on the nutritional knowledge of the consumers," said Kougioumoutzakis.