Cranberries have long been associated with urinary tract health thanks to its anti-adhesion effect on bacteria. Until recently the association was proven only for the juice, but recent research from Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, USA, however, found that the sweetened dried berries can also help ward off urinary tract infections.
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, making the health claim a valuable asset for cranberry product makers looking to expand in this market. The sweetened dried cranberries (both the new natural juice and the original soft moist variety) are suitable for a wide range of applications, including baked goods, cereals, cereal bars and fruit and nut mixes.
Although the quantities in which they are used in such products may not be large enough for just one serving to deliver all the benefits, an Ocean Spray spokesperson told NutraIngredients.com that they "add another string to food manufacturers' bows".
Certainly they can help boost the healthy image of a product - a priority for food companies with a finger on the pulse of consumer trends. And the natural juice variety, produced by infusing pineapple juice syrup into sliced superior grade cranberries, means that they can simplify the end product's ingredient list. Pineapple juice has far healthier connotations than sugar.
The company also offers a low sugar sweetened dried cranberry, with 50 per cent less sugar than the original. The sugar is replaced by a carbohydrate classified as a fibre.
Ocean Spray was founded in 1930, and is a cooperative of 800 cranberry growers in the United States. It manages around 60 per cent of the world's crop of North American cranberries (the only variety that has the health benefits).
The company does not disclose sales volumes, but it has seen double digit growth every year since 2001. Last month the company announced that it is doubling production capacity at its plant in Middleboro, Massachusetts, as a result of demand from the health and functional foods sector.
Ingredients account for 25 per cent of the business.
Douglas Mackay, general manager ingredients of JO Sims, Ocean Spray's UK distributor, told NutraIngredients.com that the interest in cranberries is down to a number of factors.
"Cranberries have a 'halo effect'," he said. "People know they are good for you but they may not know why."
Advice to increase consumption of fruit and vegetables has also led consumers to look around for different fruits to add to their diet, and manufacturers have also sought to enhance their products with fruits.
"We have enjoyed a desire to put fruits like cranberries into products," said Mackay. But he believes it is not just about the health image.
The bright red colour of cranberries is appealing to consumers, they have an acceptable price point for manufacturers, and they can attribute to an appealing taste.
Beyond just giving products a cranberry taste, Mackay said that they can also be used as a vehicle for other, more expensive fruit flavours such as blueberries, by infusing them with the juice.