Up Close With... The Currant Co.
August 15, 2009
Black currant, a fruit Americans were once banned from growing, now is the lead ingredient in CurrantC, a line of nationally distributed black currant nectars. Going from a banned fruit to a premium juice is not as easy as The Currant Co.’s President Greg Quinn makes it look.
In 1999, Quinn, a horticulture and culinary expert, and his wife, Carolyn Blackwood, purchased a small farm in Staatsburg, N.Y., where the headquarters of the company remain today. Quinn and his wife began to search for a new niche crop to grow that would be profitable enough to support the farm. After some research, the idea of growing currants came to him, which Quinn knew about from some time he spent in Bavaria operating a restaurant, he says. Currants virtually were unknown in the United States though, because commercial cultivation was banned nationally in 1911 by an act of Congress initiated by the lumber industry. At the time, it was thought that black currants and a particular botanical disease that caused harm to white pines were linked.
Quinn, along with experts in the field, conducted researched into the claims and concluded that the science behind the ban was not valid. In 2003, he received the fruits of his hard work and got the ban on growing black currants lifted in the state of New York. Once the law was changed, Quinn started to grow black currants on his farm.
“My intention was to introduce black currants to the country, and, of course, to do that I had to market a product,” Quinn says. “I wasn’t interested in doing small farmers markets, so I decided to do a beverage, because beverage is the largest segment of the food industry and a great way to get the word out.”
Berry to nectar
In developing a beverage for the marketplace, Quinn wanted to showcase the health benefits and flavor of black currant as much as possible. The Currant Co. launched all-natural CurrantC Black Currant Nectar as its first beverage in May 2006. According to the product’s packaging, “black currants boast twice the antioxidants of blueberries, four times the vitamin C of oranges, more potassium than a banana,” in addition to offering calcium, iron, magnesium and manganese.
“We developed a product that had more currant juice in it than any other ready-to-drink beverage in the world,” Quinn says.
The company began by marketing CurrantC as a high-end health beverage for the refrigerated section of the produce department of mainstream grocery stores as well as natural grocery stores and health food stores. After two years in the beverage business, the company decided the CurrantC brand needed some improvements to move to the next level. In January, the company switched CurrantC’s packaging from glass to a 16-ounce HDPE bottle with a 360-degree shrinkwrap label featuring a photo of the fruit. In addition to changing the packaging, The Currant Co. released five new all-natural flavors of black currant nectars. CurrantC Black Currant Clementine, Strawberry Kiwi, Passion Fruit, Blueberry and Boysenberry Nectars each feature black currant juice as the predominant ingredient.
With the new launches, the company also reformulated its nectars to be sweetened with organic agave syrup instead of cane sugar. Black currants are naturally very tart so the juices need to be sweetened. The company made the switch to organic agave syrup because over the years, it received several requests from consumers who were dealing with diabetes, and looking for a sweetener with a better glycemic index rating. The company chose organic agave because of the sweetener’s popularity with health-minded people, Quinn says.
CurrantC nectars are produced on the West Coast. The nectars are flash pasteurized and then chilled to 38 degrees and cold filled to create a fresh-tasting juice that retains more of the vitamins and antioxidants of the fruit, Quinn says.
CurrantC now is distributed in about 5,000 retailers in the United States and Canada and through the company’s Web site currantC.com. The nectars sell at a suggested retail priced of $3.99 with two servings per bottle. The company currently is working on more flavors and new sizes for its line, and moving the beverages into new channels, Quinn says. BI