The group will now fork out $50,000, as well as a year’s supply of cranberry products, to the winners of a competition to find the most innovative cranberry recipe at the foodservice level and the consumer level.
Marketing efforts such as this have contributed to the popularity of cranberries in recent years, resulting in a growing consumer awareness and interest in the product, especially for its benefits for urinary tract health.
Although the berries hold no health claims in the US, 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.
As well as promoting awareness of the berry’s benefits, Ocean Spray’s efforts also aim to promote awareness of the product’s versatility in different applications.
The current contest has already drawn up a list of finalists that have used the berry in dishes such as Zesty Sweet Potato Gratin with Cranberry Crisp, Cranberry-Thai Glazed Flame- Roasted Pork Loin, Warm Chevre Crostini with Cranberry Basil Tapenade and Wild West Wedges with Cranberry Catsup.
Consumers largely identify the cranberry's healthy attributes to its ability to help ward off urinary tract infections, mainly due to effective communication of a strong body of science supporting these benefits.
According to a recent study, almost one third of parents in the US give cranberry to their children because of its reputation for fighting urinary tract infections.
In 2004 France became the first country to approve a health claim for the North American cranberry species Vaccinium macrocarpon, which states that it can 'help reduce the adhesion of certain E.coli bacteria to the urinary tract walls'.
Recent studies have also reported that the anti-bacterial benefits may be matched by anti-viral benefits, and may inhibit the growth and spread of human oesophageal adenocarcinoma (a cancer in glandular tissue) cells.
The berries also contain anti-oxidants and are said to be good for heart health and to reduce ulcers and gum disease.
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.
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.