In recent years, the world apparently is awakening to the delights of the North American cranberry. Sales of cranberries and ingredients made from this versatile fruit are booming, according to Kristen Borsari, Ocean Spray Ingredient Technology Group (ITG) global marketing manager.
"Ingredients sales are double digit everywhere," she says. "Particularly in Europe and Eastern European countries such as Bosnia we're seeing exceptionally strong sales. And we don't see any signs of demand slowing down."
The interest is so vigorous that Ocean Spray, actually a cranberry-farming co-operative, is scrambling to keep up with demand. "We're challenged in many ways to find more fruit," Borsari says. "Our agricultural scientists are some of the best, and they are helping our farmers to increase their yields, looking at renovating existing acreage" — accomplished by replanting lots with higher-yield vines — "and we're helping our farmers to gain more acreage, among other things. And we're planting for the future, as it takes three to five years to start a new field, to get from planting to harvesting."
Also popular are Ocean Spray's spray-dried fruit-juice concentrates. With a high percentage of fruit solids, they contain many of the fruit's components such as sugars, proteins, trace elements and phytochemicals. "Manufacturers are increasingly looking to meet the demand for better-for-you foods," says Kristen Girard, Ocean Spray ITG's principal food scientist. "Cranberries are very high in antioxidants, which most consumers nowadays want. It's about anti-ageing."
Plus, perhaps the best-known health benefit of cranberries comes from the fruit's high number of proanthocyanidins (PACs), those flavanoids that are so successful at preventing urinary-tract infections, due to their anti-adhesion effect on bacteria.
Products such as the fruit-juice concentrates and the Berry Fusion line "are all natural, and add a burst of colour to a product," Girard says. The Berry Fusion fruits have the same health properties as the fresh fruit, with no decrease in the concentration of PACs (1.7 per cent minimum), she says. the ITG has recently developed a cranberry extract powder, as well, that boosts PACs to four per cent, and cranberry purée, which adds natural colour, smooth texture and high dietary-fibre content. It is especially aimed at the smoothie market.
Continued research into the benefits of cranberry can only increase the demand. Two of the most recent studies add to the body of positive information. The first, presented at Experimental Biology 2008, demonstrated that ingestion of two servings of cranberry-juice cocktail potentially increases artery dilation and blood flow. The second study suggested that there may be an added effect on inhibiting the H. pylori bacteria (responsible for ulcers) in children when cranberry juice and probiotics are used in combination.
So, despite a necessary price increase June 1 due to pressures of transportation costs and the like, sales are continuing to boom. Given the past record of the Ocean Spray ITG in coming up with new ways to exploit the properties of the cranberries, it would appear that one of America's three native plants will continue to grow in fame worldwide.