American cranberry first fruit in world to win health claim

The world?s first cranberry health claim will spur further claims according to the man whose petition was accepted by the French government?s food safety authority, AFSSA (Agence Française de Sécurité Sanitaire des Aliments).

?It is only a matter of time before similar claims appear in other countries,? said Gunter Haesaerts, who spent more than two years compiling the file on behalf of cranberry giant Ocean Spray. Haesaerts? company, Gika, distributes Ocean Spray?s ingredients in France. Other applications were being considered in other European countries, he said.

Progress was also being made in the US where the National Institutes of Health is conducting research.

?There is $2.6 million of funding to complete these studies,? he said. ?When they are complete, there will be ample information to go to the FDA and get a qualified health claim on cranberries, possibly by 2006-07.?

Haesaerts said he had four further claim petitions in readiness relating to other health properties of the cranberry, but didn?t want to complicate the situation by applying for them simultaneously. ?The cranberry is like a mini pharmacy,? he said. ?There are so many useful ingredients in cranberry, but you can?t go to the public and say this is a wonder berry. Consumers won?t accept that. So we decided to keep the message simple.?

The claim, approved by AFSSA in April and which applies only to the North American cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon), states that the fruit can ?help reduce the adhesion of certain E.coli bacteria to the urinary tract walls.? Products must carry at least 36mg of cranberry-bearing proanthocyadins to carry the claim. Other likely petitions will focus on the prevention of stomach ulcers, removal of mouth bacteria and fighting plaque.

Ocean Spray?s Ingredients Technology Group is set to be the claim?s major beneficiary, although smaller players such as Northland and Decas are present in the French market and will look to employ it as well. To date only two supplements launched by Gika subsidiary, Pharmatoka, are carrying the claim.

?This represents a major breakthrough for Ocean Spray, and we?re looking forward to working with manufacturers to bring products bearing the claim to the marketplace,? said Joe Speroni, director of research at Ocean Spray.

Haesaerts said cranberry awareness was rising in France after a nationwide billboard campaign for a cranberry piece trail mix and would be further boosted by Ocean Spray?s intended launch of its cranberry juice cocktail in early 2005. The launch of Ocean Spray?s juice in the UK some 15 years ago ignited a market that today includes fresh cranberries available in supermarkets.

?It has been done in England, and we are doing it in France,? Haesaerts said. ?2005 is going to be the year where cranberries will take off in France.?

Market leader Ocean Spray processes about 65 per cent of the worldwide cranberry crop. Cranberry is the first fruit to gain a health claim.

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