Ocean Spray tests fresh cranberry shipments from Chile to U.S.

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Ocean Spray tests fresh cranberry shipments from Chile to U.S.

After the U.S. granted market access for fresh Chilean cranberries a couple of months ago, grower-owned cooperative Ocean Spray has been busy testing the waters for its first counterseasonal supply to North America.

David S. Nolte (left) and Scott J. Simmons

David S. Nolte (left) and Scott J. Simmons

Ocean Spray International Services senior manager Scott J. Simmons said he was 'very excited' to have the opportunity to sell the fruit during the springtime in the U.S.

"Right now fresh cranberries in the U.S. are just September through Christmas, with the focus around the Thanksgiving holidays, but the Chilean harvest is mid-Mach through April," he told www.freshfruitportal.com at the recent PMA Fresh Summit held in Atlanta, Georgia.

"We're still going through some more testing because the big thing with fresh is keeping quality. You need to make sure that whatever you put in can last at least three or four weeks.

"We're probably going to wait another year and test some more. We don't want to put it in a bag if it's going to go bad too fast."

Simmons said the fruit would most likely be shipped via airfreight, but it had not been decided whether to pack the fruit in Chile or ship in bulk and pack at Ocean Spray's facility in Massachusetts.

Establishing new practices

Simmons said developing Chilean production had not been straightforward since the company kicked off its operations in the country around a decade ago.

"You would think that because in Chile they grow so many types of fruits and vegetables that it would just be natural, but cranberries are a little different," he said.

Cranberries grow in a type of wetland called a bog, and require sandy soils with low pH levels which are typically not found around the production area of Lanco, in the southern XIV (Los Rios) region.

"They had to sort of change the conventional cultural practices," said David S. Nolte, Ocean Spray Cranberries senior manager cooperative supply, agricultural supply and development.

"There they have more of a volcanic soil, so we had to establish new practices which took a while to get up to speed.

"But now they are producing very high quality fruit, with exceptionally high color, and high Brix. They have created a very high-tech growing approach."

Nolte added that while cranberry production may require a lot of water, growers of the fruit are 'good stewards' for water use, recycling wherever possible.

"We do build a lot of reservoirs and store water in operations. Most are closed, so you would typically pump water into beds and recycle water," he said.

"Water is used for moving the fruit, irrigation and frost protection, and because of that we maintain a lot of open space for coverage to supply the reservoir and not in agricultural production."

About 95% of all production is destined for processing, with 5% sold in the fresh market.

In the near future, the company's focus will be more on agricultural renovation rather than expanding production areas, according to the representatives.

Marketing challenges

In the U.S. and Canada, where Ocean Spray also has cranberry production, the representatives said the main industry challenge at present was generating new interest in the fruit.

"We seem to have an established base of cranberry consumers and it's all about figuring out what is attractive to those new consumers and how to reach them," Simmons said

"Our core consumer is aging and Ocean Spray is a traditional company."

He added the company was also looking into social media outlets and other publications to promote the fruit.

"Fresh cranberries come out in September through December, but the focus is really on Thanksgiving. We want to expand that, and teach people about the health benefits and how they can be used in different things like smoothies."

Simmons also said cranberries were a great ingredient in sauces, salsas, and were also becoming popular in baking.

In terms of health benefits, Nolte highlighted cranberries were like a 'natural antibiotic' due to their high levels of antioxidants and their preventative properties for a number of health conditions.

"They are great, for example, for treating UTIs [urinary tract infection], stomach ulcers, and all kind of antibiotic functions and maintaining health."

Export markets

In the European market Ocean Spray has had distributors in the U.K., Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium for around 40 or 50 years, according to Simmons.

However, he said there had been little growth in the market, in part due to the influx of lingonberries, a small red fruit similar to the cranberry.

The company is also hoping to develop its business in China, and recently created a video showing how the fruit is harvested and marketed.

"We've been doing tours and presenting to the Chinese population in four cities, including Beijing and Shanghai," Simmons said.

"We want to show what is the company, and what is a cranberry. It's a growing opportunity and we're selling a lot of dried fruit - much of it is sold as mail order."

Simmons estimated the business sold around 60% of fruit in the U.S., with much of the rest going to Europe.

However, he said the percentage for the U.S. market would likely drop slightly in the future as more fruit is sold in other markets like South America, Central America and Asia.



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