Photo from the Cranberry Marketing Committee
Promoting cranberries for Thanksgiving and Christmas is a no-brainer, but savvy retailers can boost sales by promoting the fruit for its health benefits and other uses year-round.
Cranberries are probably more healthful than you might have thought.
“It’s not just about (preventing) urinary tract infections,” said Terry Humfeld, executive director of the Cranberry Institute in Plymouth, Mass.
The institute has a website with more than 600 research abstracts showing a positive impact on heart health, antioxidant activity, glucose metabolism and gut health, Humfeld said.
“Cranberry research has exploded over the last 10 years,” he added.
As a cranberry producer, Bob Wilson, managing member of Wisconsin Rapids, Wis.-based The Cranberry Network LLC, also said cranberries have a place beyond holiday dinners.
“There’s so much more to be valued with the extraordinarily high natural nutrient content of cranberries,” Wilson said. “Today’s consumer is looking at fresh cranberries when they’re available for inclusion in all sorts of baking items, stuffing items (and in) their daily smoothie for that high-nutrient punch.”
The highly coveted millennial demographic, which Wilson refers to as “the smoothies generation,” has shown a particular interest in cranberries, he said.
Fresh cranberries have a relatively short window – October through December – so he urges retailers to encourage shoppers to buy multiple packs of the little red orbs and “load up your freezer” during the fresh season.
Cranberries can be frozen in the package they come in or placed inside a resealable plastic bag.
“They’ll last over a year in the freezer,” Wilson said.
Melissa O’Brien, retail dietitian for Itasca, Ill.-based Jewel Osco supermarkets, said cranberries provide unique nutrients that have been linked to urinary tract health, heart health, gut health and inflammation reduction.
“In addition to the health benefits, shoppers are looking for ways to add new tastes and nutrients to their favorite dishes, and cranberries are an easy way to do this for both sweet and savory dishes,” O’Brien said.
She noted that promoting cranberries at retail can pay off in a big way – fresh cranberry promotions at Jewel Osco supermarkets have resulted in a 9.6% sales lift.
Humfeld, with the Cranberry Institute, said promoting the health benefits in particular is a strategy he expects would work well for retailers.
Cranberries have long been known for their ability to fight urinary tract infections, and new research has confirmed that attribute, but research sponsored by the Cranberry Institute is showing potential for cranberries to have a positive effect on heart health as well, Humfeld said.
His organization monitors cranberry health research and posts new studies in the Cranberry Health Research Library. A September update looks at cranberry use in elderly people or patients with catheters for urinary tract infection prevention, but it also reports on impacts on cancer, oral health, cholesterol lowering, glucose management and metabolic syndrome.
“The healthiest bang for the buck that you can get is by eating the cranberry in its natural form or by taking them home whole, fresh and cooking them up and putting them in your favorite recipe,” Wilson, with The Cranberry Network, said. “Sadly, we as industry haven’t promoted this enough.”
Growers expect plenty of good-quality cranberries to be available this season.
“The crop looks very good,” Bob Von Rohr, marketing and customer relations manager for Sunny Valley International Inc., Glassboro, N.J., said in early September.
“As of right now, it looks a little bit better than a normal crop,” he said, citing good growing weather as the primary factor.
Harvest starts in early October for retailers that want product by mid-October “just to get something on the shelves and let the people know they’re going to have them,” Von Rohr said.
Harvest continues through the week of Christmas.
Wilson, with The Cranberry Network, also expected a good season.
“I think there’s going to be plenty of fresh cranberries out there,” he said.
The company packs under its Habelman label as well as Naturipe and some private labels.
“We’re planning to be very busy, and we look forward to consumers buying a lot,” he said.
The Cranberry Marketing Committee, Wareham, Mass., estimates volume for the 2018 crop year at 9.2 million 100-pound barrels – up from 8.1 million barrels harvested in 2017.
Fresh product accounts for about 3% of cranberry sales.
Growers did not expect a September U.S. Department of Agriculture ruling reducing most cranberry supplies by 25% to seriously impact supplies or pricing of fresh cranberries.
Most cranberries are grown in Wisconsin, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon and Washington. Small amounts can be found in Michigan, Minnesota, Connecticut and Rhode Island.