The Ocean Spray cooperative has been the subject of business school case studies in the recent past — with good reason. Called a “paragon of manufacturing efficiency” by The Economist a while back, Ocean Spray could also be called a “model of marketing know-how….”
The cranberry had already had a long history when it was introduced to the settlers of the Massachusetts Bay Colony by the native Indians at the first Thanksgiving meal of 1621. And it has been consumed in North America ever since.
Interestingly, the Ocean Spray cooperative was founded by three cranberry growers in 1930. By working cooperatively, three cranberry growers hoped to ride out the Great Depression.
For the next three decades, the cranberry business grew at a slow but steady pace. With its business heavily weighted to the holiday season, Ocean Spray opted to develop new products that would ensure sales throughout the year. Accordingly, the company decided to launch juice products. To ensure long shelf life, pasteurization and packaging prevented the product from not only spoiling, but from turning off-color.
With the debut of its juice products in 1963, Ocean Spray was confronted with getting consumers to purchase the new products; besides creating demand for a new entry in the juice category, the company was now faced with having to augment its marketing efforts and to build the brand.
In order to do that, the company worked tirelessly to get consumers to taste their juices. They also enlisted the help of two groups: bartenders and doctors. Bartenders were encouraged to make new drink concoctions using cranberry juice. Doctors were given seminars and information on how cranberries help cure infections, especially bladder infections in women.
Their efforts have yielded great results today: over 800 cranberry growers now belong to the Ocean Spray cooperative. And the company has expanded well beyond its Lakeville-Middleboro Massachusetts base, with growers and facilities from coast to coast. Estimated sales in 2005: $1.5 billion. Despite increased competition since the 1960’s, Ocean Spray owns 54% of the cranberry juice market and 20% of the shelf space in the juice aisle.
Not only that: who would have thought that dried, sweetened cranberries–Craisins–would become such a hit? The delectable little treat is a concoction of dried cranberries injected with a sweetened cranberry juice blend. Great for eating as a snack, adding into baked goods or cereal, craisins have capitalized on the growing health-conscious snacking trends in the country. After all, they taste great and are better for you than potato chips.
Hmmm… that’s the kind of thinking that got Ocean Spray COO Ken Romanzi and Fran Kelly, co-author of The Breakaway Brand to reenergize the cranberry juice business. With domestic juice sales at a plateau for a decade, and increased drink competition coming from the bottled water, sports and energy drink categories, Romanzi and Kelly knew that the cranberry story had to be retold.
Hence, the new marketing campaign was born: two growers standing in a bog, reminding the consumer about the natural goodness of this little piece of fruit. Born in the bogs, natural, untampered with. Still being cultivated in the same manner for almost 400 years by farmers with families in a nationwide network.
With national PR now focused on the antioxidant properties of this little jewel, the image of the cranberry is finally shifting perceptions as the antidote for UTIs to much broader appeal. The campaign has borne fruit (pun intended) as consumer awareness metrics and sales have both increased.
And so Ocean Spray, its growing cooperative, and the humble cranberry continue to reinvent themselves and keep their brand burning brightly. This just goes to show you how a 75+ year old brand can be maintained over the long haul, and keep its relevance with the customer.