The Massachusetts-based company, which has supplied cranberry ingredients to the food industry for a decade, said it will expand its production capacity for sweetened dry cranberries (SDCs) by 35 percent. "The increase in capacity for our Decas Premium SDC products was in direct response to the growing demand for our specialty products," said Nick Decas, vice president of sales of Decas. Cranberry growth The popularity of cranberries has been increasing in recent years as a combination of strong marketing campaigns and a body of scientific evidence revealing the fruit's health benefits have contributed to growing consumer awareness and interest in the product. The fruit has long been considered an effective method of fighting urinary tract infections, something that has led to almost one third of parents in the US giving it to their children, according to a recent study. And in 2004, evidence emerged to demonstrate the fruit's positive effect on heart health. The study, presented at the Canadian Cardiovascular Society's Annual Congress in Calgary, showed that the cranberry improves circulation by increasing the level of HDL, or good cholesterol and acting as a powerful antioxidant. According to 2006 estimations, the US and Canada produce about 7 to 7.6 million 100-pound barrels of cranberries every year. Decas claims to be the second largest producer of cranberry ingredients in the world. Decas growth Decas yesterday said that it hopes the expansion of its processing facilities will increase efficiencies and economies of scale. The company plans to grow its market presence and better position itself to market its products around the world. According to the firm, the expansion comes on the back of increased demand for its Soft & Moist SDC, Fruit Juice Infused SDC, Whole SDC, Omega Fortified SDC and All Natural SDC. Decas promotes its sweetened dried cranberries as a rich source of proanthocyanidins (PACs). Found abundantly in cranberries, PACs are natural plant compounds with antioxidant, anti-adhesion and anti-bacterial health promoting properties. Decas, which sponsored Brunswick Laboratories to test its product for PAC content, says that a quarter cup of its sweetened dried cranberries has twice the PAC level of an eight-ounce glass of cranberry juice cocktail. Decas SDCs are used in snack mixes, nutrition bars, cereal mixes, baked goods and salads. While in the US the berries hold no health claims, cranberry giant and Decas competitor Ocean Spray has in a large part carried the message through to consumers via awareness campaigns that do not form part of its direct product or juice ads. Accordingly, the health link appears to have been widely registered by the public, and demand for the berries has subsequently grown. Cranberry shortages? At the end of last year, the Wall Street Journal reported that bad weather and increased demand could result in a lack of cranberries for the popular Christmas season. The journal said an unseasonably warm winter and droughts in summer damaged the crop, which could result in a further rise in prices. The average retail price of a 12-ounce package of fresh cranberries had already risen eight cents in 2007 to $2.20 from $2.12 in 2006, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation. However, Ocean Spray had said at the time of the Wall Street Journal report that the cranberry harvest had not been damaged, but instead fears of shortages were based on increased consumer demand. Indeed, Ocean Spray has also expanded its cranberry production recently, in an effort to meet this demand. In August last year it said it was investing $27m in a second phase expansion of its plant at Wisconsin, which will allow for the addition of a further 100,000 square feet to the plant. This followed a $50m first phase extension of 100,000 square feet, announced in 2006 and completed in June 2007. According to Ocean Spray, the second phase expansion is due to be completed in 2009, and will allow for an overall production capacity of more than 30 million pounds of sweetened dry cranberries per year.