And more health claims are to follow, says Gika, the first cranberry products distributor on the market.
The health claim approved in April this year for the North American cranberry (vaccinium macrocarpon) stated that it can 'help reduce the adhesion of certain E.coli bacteria to the urinary tract walls'.
However Gunter Haesaerts, managing director of Gika, which distributes Ocean Spray's ingredients in France, says he is currently working on another four health claims for the product, aiming for another approval in 2005.
"We are just at the beginning of discovering the rich benefits of fruit ingredients. But while there are a number of fruit ingredients available we are the first to achieve a health claim," Haesaerts told NutraIngredients.com.
It could be the only fruit with this status for the considerable future. The successful claim has been made possible by million dollar investment into research on this cranberry species, noted Haesaerts.
"Blueberries also have significant benefits but the blueberry industry is scattered worldwide, with no major producer willing to invest to this extent. Ocean Spray has 65 per cent of the world's cranberry production and had the muscle and resources to invest in the science," he said.
Gika has launched a new company, called Pharmatoka, to market two new supplements - Oxyrell cranberry powder sticks to fight free radicals and a liquid supplement based on the juice, called Urell, which will carry the urinary tract claim.
However the 'mechanistic claim' is a difficult sell, says Haesaerts.
"You don't want to put this kind of claim on a cookie, for example. People generally get very shy when you talk about urinary infections. So we are working on a milder claim, stating that the ingredient is 'bacterial anti-adhesive'," he explained.
New products carrying a claim along these lines are expected to be unveiled at this year's SIAL in October, he added.
Other petitions to the French food safety authority AFSSA will include claims that the fruit can help prevent stomach ulcers in its action against the Heliobacter pylori bacteria, as well as its anti-adhesive effect on bacteria in the mouth, preventing the build-up of plaque.
Other suppliers of the North American cranberry will be able to use these claims too, of course, and Northland, Decas, and a number of smaller independents are now present on the market, with impact on Gika's sales. But they will also help drive awareness of the fruit, virtually unknown in France prior to Ocean Spray's arrival five years ago.
"Competition can only raise awareness. It will also be improved by the launch of Ocean Spray's Cranberry Juice Cocktail in 2005," added Haesaerts.
For the moment, the Pharmatoka products are the only ones to carry the health claim, being the only supplements out of four or five others to conform to the required proanthocyadin content (36mg daily).
Recurrent cystitis affects 2 million women annually in France and prompts around 5 million calls to doctors. The number of doctors appointments is 2.5 times more than in the US, noted Haesaerts, which explains the increasing presence of American cranberry suppliers in Europe.
"This market is certainly going to go to the cranberry in the future," he added.