When a Cranberry Stops Being a Cranberry

[Update: see Ocean Spray's response in the comments below.]

More Cranberry news today.

Here’s a dilemma for you. Let’s say you are the CEO of a successful food company that sells products both to consumers and to other food processors. And let’s assume you are being squeezed by your big corporate clients to lower the price of your product. What do you do? Do you stand by the quality of your product and take a hit on the bottom line? Or do you get the food scientists to whip up a cheaper, inferior version?

This is the story of sweetened dried cranberries (SDC), manufactured by Ocean Spray. The consumer product, Craisins, contains dried cranberries, sugar (lots), and sometimes a bit of oil. That’s the package we buy at the supermarket. However, when we buy products with cranberry, such as Nature Valley Fruit Bars and Pepperidge Farm Chewy Granola Cookies, the cranberries inside are different. They come from a new product by Ocean Spray, called “Choice”.

What you need to know:

The “Choice” product has 50% less cranberry (the expensive ingredient) and more of other stuff: sugar, edelberry juice, citric acid. Some say, it barely has any cranberry left.

Here’s what The National Consumers League (NCL), a watchdog organization, wrote to the FDA:

…the cranberry content is so small that Ocean Spray must add color in the form of elderberry juice concentrate and acidity in the form of citric acid to simulate the color and acidity of cranberries. These findings are consistent with Ocean Spray’s own claims that it uses 50 percent fewer cranberries to make “Choice” than the regular product. Ocean Spray’s marketing materials tout “Choice” as a low-cost SDC with the same taste, texture, appearance, and health benefits as other SDCs.

NCL argues that such products should not be called cranberries, because they barely contain any of the original fruit. After sending the “Choice” product to a lab, they also ask that the ingredient label (on bulk packages, we assume) be corrected to state sugar as the first ingredient, not cranberries.

If you’re wondering why some products are full of all strange sounding names and chemicals, this story exemplifies one of the many reasons – manufacturer cost reduction.

Two other well known examples are the use of high fructose corn syrup instead of sugar in soft drinks (HFCS is half the price of table sugar) and the invention of margarine as a low cost alternative to butter (at the behest of France’s Napoleon two hundred years ago).

What to do at the supermarket:

Go for products with ingredient lists that have real, understandable names. Not always the healthiest (i.e too much butter), but at least you know what you are putting in your mouth.

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  • http://www.newtaste.com Dave Schy

    One bite tells you that cranberries are not naturally sweet. When they end up in manufactured form in the grocery store they are sweet. It doesn’t really matter if that sweetener is sugar, corn syrup or apple juice. The issue is the accepted level of sweetener used to produce a product that will sell. This level seems to me to be somewhere between milkshake and candy bar. If you are looking for something less sweet you obviously must make it yourself. I like to roast cranberries and then add a small amount of sweetener to them. Here is a good example of a healthy side dish for the holidays.
    http://www.newtaste.com/butternutcran.html

    • http://profile.yahoo.com/74ZSEMQ574EYJEOPSZ7RC6J2DU Raven420

      I realize this post is two years old but I hope by now you’ve educated yourself on the issue of sweetening with HFCS or corn syrup.  It not only matters, it matters a great deal.  The issue is far greater than level of sweetness, it has to do with serious health risks.  From the GMO issue of the corn to the heavy metals and chemicals and everything in between, HFCS is TOXIC and shouldn’t be consumed AT ALL, let alone in the amounts found in our food.  This is one thing that even moderation is too much.

  • Sarah Rall

    I represent Ocean Spray and wanted to respond to a few claims in your post:

    A recent claim about our Choice sweetened dried cranberries ingredient product is inaccurate.

    This issue has nothing to do with retail Craisins® brand sweetened dried cranberries.

    Our Choice product is made from Grade A superior frozen whole cranberries which are then sliced and sent through our patented process including infusion of sugar, citric acid and elderberry juice to infuse flavor and color specifically developed to meet our industrial customers’ needs for their variety of recipes. Being made from whole cranberries, Choice retains similar levels of the healthful compounds proanthocyanidins (PACs) and phenolics as whole cranberries.

    Ocean Spray’s Choice product is just one ingredient product among a portfolio of flavor-infused ingredient products we sell to large industrial food manufacturers with sophisticated procurement processes. Choice is not a product sold directly to consumers at retail. Choice is only sold as an ingredient for use in other food products.

    Choice is labeled accurately and the food manufacturers that buy this product receive a specifications sheet of ingredients as well as nutritional information of the product.

    For additional information click here to view press release: http://bit.ly/80tNDJ

  • http://www.littlestomaks.com TwinToddlersDad

    Interesting how the debate has quickly turned into what is meant by “cranberry content”! I think I can understand Sarah’s response from a business perspective.

    An interesting question would be to ask if the customers of the processed products are buying these products because of “cranberry” or because they satisfy a diverse range of needs. Maybe they want a quick snack and not really care if the product contains cranberries.

    I don’t really see anything misleading in the claim. Thank you for taking a closer look at the subject though. Personally I would worry more about sugar and trans fats.

  • enigma23

    elderberry extract is excellent in the use of coughing(cold remedies). however, a friend once said, hey, how many band members do you have to lose before you change the name of the band? the same with what is now legal to be called organic. i still want to know what that percentage is. full disclosure. that is what i take from this article. if i want an apple, i want an apple. correct labeling is fair education. there is so much going on with the mislabeling of calorie content, fat, carbohydrates….