Cranberries: Not Just for Holidays

Cranberries Display

Strategizing sales during the fresh harvest.

Organic CranberriesThe short window of the fresh cranberry harvest, which takes place primarily in North America between September and early November, requires marketers and retailers to be proactive in their campaigns and marketing tactics, as this time crunch requires creativity from those responsible for moving these ephemeral dwarf shrub berries off the shelves.

Scott Simmons, vice president of sales at Bluewater Farms, a division of West Wareham, MA-based Graystone Limited, and a fresh cranberry supplier, says it is imperative retailers start advertising early. “If you get retailers to advertise in October, you can get more sales for Thanksgiving,” he says.

To grow the category, however, planning ahead is not enough.

Marketing and sales executives are increasingly looking to create messaging beyond traditional cranberry uses by gearing campaigns and products toward Millennial consumers who are looking for a way to add vibrant flavors and color in their culinary and entertaining pursuits.

Michelle Hogan, executive director of the Cranberry Marketing Committee, says consumers today are looking for more out-of-the-box ingredients with documented health benefits. “They want to be able to incorporate new and interesting foods into their lifestyle, and we think cranberries really fit there.”

According to Hogan, cranberries fit the bill for the superfood category. “They’re really well-known for promoting urinary tract health,” she says. Cranberries are also loaded with antioxidants. The little berries are packed with nutrients called proanthocyanidins, or PACs for short, and they contain both vitamin C and fiber. Research has also shown cranberries’ anti-microbial activities can help ward off cardiovascular disease and cancer.

To create campaigns around these health benefits, retailers and marketers should use simple, clear messaging that resonates with consumers.

“We work with the Cranberry Institute to look at what the current research is so that we’re developing messages consumers will understand,” says Hogan.

Bluewater Farms has tapped into the health-conscious consumer market with the launch of its fresh cranberry juice line, says Simmons. The company has leveraged social media networks, such as Instagram and Twitter, to promote new products: lemonade, juice cocktail, sweet tea and tangerine beverage, all flavored with fresh cranberries. “It is a very clean label, just cranberries, water and pure cane sugar. It’s definitely targeting the Millennial generation,” he says.

Maximizing the Holiday Push

Cranberry Wreath

Photo Courtesy of Cranberry Marketing Committee/
Carlene Thomas, RDN

Along with an emphasis on the health benefits of cranberries, marketers have tuned their messaging to match the do-it-yourself ethos of younger consumers. Friendsgiving, a holiday celebrated with friends that mirrors the traditional harvest day of thanks, is particularly popular among Millennials and a great opportunity for showcasing handmade crafts and homemade dishes.

Hogan notes the success of the Friendsgiving campaign, which has run for the past three years. “We conducted Friendsgiving photo contests on social media. It’s an exciting way for the cranberry industry to engage with Millennials as they’re forming their own traditions. It’s a really exciting campaign that shows the versatility of fresh cranberries.”

Past Friendsgiving promotions have increased cranberry sales by up to 64 percent, according to Hogan. She says these strategies are also great for retailers who create online campaigns to boost their own initiatives. “It gives them a way to engage with Millennials in-store and online by utilizing the Friendsgiving concept.”

Cranberries can be the perfect pop of color in festive holiday decor, says Kimberly McAllister, director of marketing at Middleboro, MA-based Ocean Spray Cranberries, Inc. “It’s everything from traditional holiday decor to putting fresh cranberries in vases or wreaths. It adds a brightness and vibrancy that brings warmth to the holidays,” she says.

Cranberry Candles

Photo Courtesy of Cranberry Marketing Committee/
Carlene Thomas, RDN

At New Leaf Community Markets’ six locations on the Central California coast, regional produce manager Maroka Kawamura likes to take full advantage of cranberries’ colorful personality. “Cranberries dovetail nicely with the total seasonal changes we see in produce. Since we do many configurations, we can merchandise bowls of bulk in ice tables with Brussels sprouts, clamshells with apples, cello with pears. The cranberry color is so rich, and it’s nice to add that to the department.”

With their deep, distinctive red color, cranberries are perfect accents to floral arrangements, candles, and garlands. Michelle Hogan, executive director of the Cranberry Marketing Committee, headquartered in Wareham, MA, says the seasonal fresh crop is a “decorative secret weapon.”

Hogan notes the importance of cranberries in the American holiday tradition, which was highlighted in a 2016 survey commissioned by the Committee. The study showed nearly half of Americans could not imagine their Thanksgiving or Friendsgiving without cranberries.

Harnessing the Flavor

The tangy flavor of the cranberry makes it a perfect complement, not only to the rich centerpiece dishes of holiday meals but also to everyday recipes. Retailers and marketing executives should develop recipes that encourage home cooks to keep cranberries in their kitchens year-round.

“Lots of recipes call for cranberries during the fall and winter months,” says Maria Brous, director of media and community relations for Publix Super Markets, Lakeland, FL. “We offer recipes as part of our Publix Aprons program that includes cranberries. On our website, we have approximately 60 recipes for customers to review that specifically call out cranberries.”

“Aside from the traditional cranberry sauce, the Cranberry Marketing Committee has been developing new recipes such as fresh cranberry salsa and pickled cranberry costini.”

—Michelle Hogan, executive director of the Cranberry Marketing Committee

The Cranberry Marketing Committee has a database of recipes, says Hogan. “There are definitely some of the traditional cranberry sauce recipes, but we’ve been working to develop some new recipes such as fresh cranberry salsa and pickled cranberry crostini. We work with retailers and do social media campaigns to educate consumers about creative ways to use cranberries.”

Cranberry Salsa

Photo Courtesy of Cranberry Marketing Committee/
Carlene Thomas, RDN

Some other baking standouts featured on the Committee’s website include cranberry apple cider bread, cranberry banana bread pudding, and cranberry butterscotch squares. During the warmer months, retailers can educate consumers on how to incorporate cranberries into salad dressings and even barbecue sauce.

Freshly prepared cranberries are great for spreading on sandwiches, grilled meats, pancakes, and pastries. Bluewater Farms’ Simmons says cranberries are a great ingredient in sauces, relishes, and even smoothies.

Marketers have also seen an increased consumer interest in using fresh cranberries to make cranberry sauce.

“Fresh cranberry sauce is key to the holiday meal, and we’ve definitely seen a trend toward fresh cranberry sauce versus canned,” says Ocean Spray’s McAllister.

In 2013, the Cranberry Marketing Committee launched an initiative to bring cranberries into the foodservice industry, including school cafeterias. “We have worked to give school foodservice professionals greater access to cranberries for school meals and recipes that meet the National School Lunch Program Guidelines,” says Hogan. To kickstart the initiative, the advisory group created a separate database for recipes geared toward foodservice professionals, as well as educational posters to teach kids about the health benefits.

Packaging‭ ‬&‭ ‬Cross-Promotions

Retailers should tailor cranberry packaging and cross-promotions with seasonal consumer preferences in mind. Ocean Spray is introducing a 1-pound resealable gusset bag, which is optimal for cooking and freezing for long-term use. Simultaneously, the company is launching a “buy two, freeze one” campaign to encourage consumers to use cranberries throughout the year.

Retailers are also advised to package cranberries in a way that showcases their bright color. “It starts with quality,” says Simmons of Bluewater Farms. “You need to have good quality, and by good quality, I mean good color.” Bluewater Farms will sell bigger bags, such as a 2-pound bag in November, which is peak time for awareness and consumption. When sales are not geared toward Thanksgiving, a 12-ounce poly bag is optimal. “It’s been that way forever. There’s a lot of recipes geared toward that quantity. I would say roughly 80 percent of fresh cranberries are packaged that way,” adds Simmons.

“It starts with quality. You need to have good quality, and by good quality, I mean good color.”

— Scott Simmons, Bluewater Farms

New Leaf’s Kawamura has different ways to market cranberries. “We do multiple configurations — bulk, cello, and clamshell — using different price points and weights.”

Cranberry Mule

Photo Courtesy of Cranberry Marketing Committee/
Carlene Thomas, RDN

Cross-promotion is key for retailers looking to augment sales during the holiday season and throughout the year. Hogan advises clients to coordinate cross-promotions with recipes. “Certainly, if you’re talking about cocktails, there’s definitely a lot of cross-promotion with seltzers and liquor. One particular recipe that we’re always excited about is cranberry salsa, so in the produce department we would pair it with limes and cilantro, and share recipes. For more traditional recipes such as baked goods, it’ll be paired with flour for muffins and things like that.”

Retailers can also merchandise cranberries in conjunction with the floral department, which caters to the growing cohort of consumers who want to create their own vibrant holiday centerpieces and crafts incorporating both flowers and bright cranberries. The Cranberry Marketing Committee is currently developing an instructional video to show consumers how they can use cranberries in floral arrangements. In November, the most robust season for cranberry sales, retailers can cross-merchandise with popular Thanksgiving items such as sweet potatoes, stuffing mix, and green beans.

To maximize the benefits of these strategies, retailers should embrace the dynamic utility of cranberries, says Cranberry Marketing Committee’s Hogan. “Companies can highlight cranberries’ versatility by sharing a variety of recipes to show off the endless possibilities. Cranberries are easy and convenient to use in any form, making them a perfect fit for sweet or savory meals and recipes.”