Whether as a stand alone fruit flavor or in combination with other flavors, cranberry is a choice ingredient and flavor among beverage-makers. Nearly 30 percent of respondents to Beverage Industry’s 2010 Product Development Survey said they used cranberry as a flavor in their products in 2009.

Last year, more than 130 new beverages containing cranberry or cranberry flavoring were launched in the United States, reports Mintel’s Global New Products Database. Juices, fruit and flavored still drinks, nectars, flavored waters and beverage mixes were the leading beverage categories to use cranberry. Cranberry alone was the top flavor offering of these beverages followed by cranberry blended with pomegranate and raspberry. Other notable flavor combinations with cranberry included cherry, strawberry, banana, blueberry, blackberry, lemon-lime, guava, hibiscus, green tea, ginseng and vegetable juices.

Cranberries continue to be a well-liked ingredient in beverages by consumers and beverage-makers for several reasons.

“The uniquely tart taste of the cranberry has traditionally made it a popular beverage ingredient,” says Tobias Stapleton, marketing director for the Cranberry Marketing Committee, Wareham, Mass. “However, as consumers learn more about the health benefits of cranberries, the more they seek out products with cranberry in it.”

The fruit’s vibrant color also helps shelf appeal.

“Cranberry’s obvious appeal is its vibrant red color,” says Kristen Borsari, senior global marketing manager for Ocean Spray, Lakeville, Mass. “In a bottled beverage, this striking characteristic immediately differentiates the product, making it jump off the shelf. In terms of flavor, the fruit’s tart taste makes for refreshing fruit-based beverages.

“Texture is a third factor for smoothies and not-from-concentrate beverages. Cranberry puree adds a wonderfully rich texture. The cranberry’s potential to offer whole body health benefits also generates interest from today’s health-conscious consumer.”

Cranberry juice traditionally has been consumed as treatment for urinary tract infections (UTI), and research has supported the anecdotal evidence that cranberries are good for preventing and reducing the occurrence of UTIs, the Cranberry Marketing Committee says. In addition, other research studies support the fact that cranberries have many other health benefits. Studies have positively linked cranberry juice consumption with heart health, anti-bacterial properties, oral health and cancer prevention, the group says. In addition to other health benefits, cranberries also are high in antioxidants.

“Consumers are becoming more aware of these other unique health benefits and are now consuming cranberry juice products and beverages on a frequent basis,” Stapleton says.

Ocean Spray

Ocean Spray is well-known for its cranberry beverages and products. The Ocean Spray co-operative was founded in 1930, and the group sees the success of the brand as a result of its relationship with its growers and Ocean Spray’s commitment to quality and innovation, Borsari says.

“We work continuously to achieve the highest quality fruit, and support this work on the ground with significant investment in complementary areas of the business, including R&D, state-of-the-art plant and processing facilities and customer support,” she says.

Ocean Spray offers several versatile ingredients for beverage applications depending on the end product. Cranberry concentrate, at 50 or 65 brix, is ideal for juice drinks, while cranberry puree is suitable in smoothies, nectars and not-from-concentrate drinks. The co-operative’s ingredient portfolio also includes 90 MX powder for dry-mix beverages.

“Thanks to our sophisticated growing, harvesting and logistics methods, we can offer customers reliable and consistent cranberry supply, year-round,” Borsari says. “The geographical diversity of our growing regions and close monitoring of conditions ensures a balanced crop. We have experienced and dedicated teams who maintain the very highest levels of product quality.”

Ocean Spray works closely with its customers to meet their precise requirements and take a flexible approach in its service. “Once we know what a customer is looking for, our food scientists can advise on the right ingredient and the best way to incorporate it into the application,” Borsari says. “The cranberry is an extremely versatile fruit, meaning there is huge scope for our customers to create innovative new products.”

In 2009, Ocean Spray introduced an online auction system for cranberry concentrate. This system establishes the clearing price for Ocean Spray’s cranberry concentrate and ensures supply certainty and efficient contracting for customers through a transparent system, Borsari says. The auctions now are held quarterly with the next one taking place in July. (Read this month’s Market Insights for more information on the auctions.)

This year, Ocean Spray expects health and wellness to remain a huge driver in the beverage industry with the healthy beverage market continuing to grow.

“New and exciting flavor combinations are also appearing on store shelves, and as cranberry blends easily with other fruits, we expect to see new variations with cranberry emerging,” Borsari says. BI