Soup-To-Nuts podcast: How Ocean Spray is saving cranberries from becoming unintentional victims of the sugar war

By Elizabeth Crawford contact

- Last updated on GMT

They say a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down and that certainly has been a major play for selling tart-tasting cranberries that are bursting with health benefits – but as the war on sugar grows, this strategy is at risk, forcing stakeholders to develop a new game plan to sell the fruit.

As one of the leading players in cranberries, Ocean Spray is rising to this challenge by launching a slew of new products with little to no added sugar that also expand the usage occasions of cranberry products. It also is doubling down on researching and communicating the berry’s health benefits to consumers, to help them see that cranberry’s pros can outweigh the cons of a little added sugar.

At the Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo in Chicago late last month, Ocean Spray spokeswoman Kellyanne Dignan explained how consumer concerns about added sugar are impacting Ocean Spray’s business and how the company is evolving its product portfolio to meet shoppers’ needs.

Updating Pact Cranberry infused water

One of the stars of Ocean Spray’s better-for-you portfolio beyond juice is its Pact Cranberry infused water, which received a make-over in late spring, early summer, including new color-coded packaging that emphasizes the beverage as a hydrating water so as not to confuse shoppers looking for a juice.

“This is definitely a change for Ocean Spray. We are obviously known as the dominate brand in the North American juice aisle. We recognize that consumers love cranberry health benefits, but not everybody drinks juice now. So, we still wanted to be able to provide cranberry to people who want cranberry, but they just aren’t going to be juice drinkers. So, that is the big idea behind Pact,”​ Dignan said.

“The relaunch and the redesign of the packaging is really designed to tell the story of what this is: it is a hydration product, it is really, really refreshing, there are multiple flavors all with our signature cranberry in there,”​ she said.

She also noted revamped marketing will emphasis that Pact isn’t like other flavored waters in that it also offers health benefits from real fruit. Many of the health benefits for Pact are based on the proanthocyanidins that gives the drink its name.

“Proanthocyanidins, if you think about them and other components of cranberries, they are really what help that cleanse and purity message. So, we say they help keep bad bacteria from sticking,”​ she said.

Emerging research and health benefits

According to literature passed out by Ocean Spray at FNCE, the scientific research for cranberries’ UTI fighting power is getting stronger. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2016 found of the 373 women in the study with a recent history of UTIs, those who consumed a daily serving of 240 milligrams of cranberry beverage for 24 weeks had a 41.8% reduction in total UTI episodes compared to the placebo group.

Dignan explains how these findings aren’t just good for UTI sufferers, but also could be good for the earth.

“If you really do have a glass of cranberry juice every day, and you are a recurring UTI sufferer, your occurrence of UTIs will go down. So, think about it. Those are antibiotics you are not taking. Think about the world we are currently living in and how concerned all of us have to be about antibiotic resistance and the growing of super bugs. If there is a product that tastes good, is good for you, that you can consume to take fewer antibiotics, it is really a public health issue and something at Ocean Spray we are really committed to,”​ she said.

Cranberries also could provide lesser known benefits to gut health, according to another study published last July in the Applied and Environmental Microbiology. That research suggests sugars called xyloglucans found in cranberry cell walls which are indigestible actually could help feed helpful bacteria in our intestines where they are broken down into more useful molecules and compounds. This is potentially major news for cranberries since prebiotics and probiotics are all the rage right now among consumers who are looking for functional health benefits from the products they eat and drink.

To help make the health benefits of cranberries easier to access, especially for consumers who don’t want added sugars, Ocean Spray is offering a several new highly concentrated products. The first is Ocean Spray Cranberry +health juice drink, which includes a higher concentration of the cranberry mash – or the plant-like material that includes those xyloglucans. This beverage really is targeted more to the health care setting. But the company’s new unsweetened 100% cranberry juice is easily available to the average consumer and provides a high dose of health benefits but without the sugar.

As anyone who has purchased unsweetened 100% cranberry juice can tell, most of the options on the market today are more expensive than their sweetened and blended counterparts. But Ocean Spray is using its size to help change that offering its option for $5.99 to $6.99.

New juices on the horizon

Even as Ocean Spray innovates to reach consumers who might not be as into juice as they once were, it is still standing strong in the shelf stable juice segment, Dignan said. For example, she pointed to new flavor blends and sophisticated juice mocktails that recently launched and new flavors that will come out this winter.

Reflecting on the changes at Ocean Spray and in the market, Dignan concluded: “It is a really interesting time for juice. I think it is not necessary one juice fits all. You are going to see a lot more specialty type juices that are for really specific consumers.”

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