FDA investigation could be key in cranberry stand-off

By Shane Starling

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Ocean spray, Cranberry

An ongoing Food and Drug Administration investigation into sweetened, dried cranberries could prove key in the legal battle that intensified between cranberry enemies, Ocean Spray and Decas last week.

Ocean Spray sued its Massachusetts rival for mounting what it alleges is an “unlawful and malicious campaign” ​to discredit Ocean Spray, its cranberry wares and relationships with its growers, allegations Decas refutes and has vowed to fight. Ocean Spray seeks an injunction, damages and court costs.

Much of Decas’ ‘campaign’ has focused on the cranberry concentration of an Ocean Spray offering called Choice, which Decas criticizes for having a lower concentration of actual cranberry juice than it is marketed at.

Ocean Spray says Decas is moving the goalposts in its measurement methods and maintains Choice has cranberry juice levels that are equivalent to comparable Decas products.

FDA ruling could prove critical

The dispute sparked an FDA investigation after the National Consumers League (NCL) hired a lab called Kreuger Food Laboratories to test Ocean Spray Choice B2B products. (Part of the Ocean Spray action alleges Decas is falsely representing that it sells them retail as well.)

NCL then filed a complaint with the agency. When contacted by this publication to determine the status of that investigation, the FDA said only that it was “ongoing”.

But FDA conclusions about the cranberry concentration of Choice and its marketing are likely to prove influential in the future relations between Decas and Ocean Spray.

Measure for measure

Ocean Spray says the Kreuger analysis of Choice is skewered because it measures only soluble solids that focus on sugar content and acid analysis and therefore fails to include other parts of the fruit.

"This only measures what are called soluble solids in the cranberry,”​ Geoff Woolford, Ocean Spray's vice president for research and development told The Standard-Times.

“There is a whole set of flesh in the fruit that's not being analyzed in the report.”

It is hoped the FDA investigation will throw some light on these differing interpretations.

Decas holds about 10 percent of the US cranberry market, compared to 60 percent for Ocean Spray.

Ocean Spray came close to buying Decas in 2008, but their rivalry has intensified since, with Ocean Spray suing Decas late in 2009 for patent infringement. Decas countersued citing antitrust behavior and a verdict has not yet been delivered.

In its latest action Ocean Spray accuses Decas of:

  • Distributing letters and emails, internet blogs and websites, Facebook accounts, YouTube videos and Twitter postings.
  • Soliciting independent growers to launch an antitrust suit against Ocean Spray and cease with working with it
  • Establishing a website called Scamberry.org to discredit Ocean Spray and Ocean Spray products

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