Fresh cranberries always enjoy strong demand around Thanksgiving and Christmas.
But as the market price of cranberry juice concentrate falls, cranberry growers are shifting their crops to more profitable markets like dried fruit.
Last season was a record year for the cranberry crop. Butch Gardner, owner of Badger State Fruit Processing, Pittsville, Wis., is one of the largest independent growers in Wisconsin.
He said his 2013 crop came in at 6 million barrels, up from the 4.6 million barrels harvested in 2012. This surplus lowered cranberry prices, but 2014’s harvest appears to be no less robust. Gardner expects approximately 5 million barrels to come in this fall.
“Pricing is weak,” he said.
To capitalize on the crop, growers are adopting a new strategy. While other companies continue to extract juice from the berry for use in juice products, growers like Gardner are leaving the juice in the berry and selling it as a dried fruit.
“We leave more juice in the cranberry, about 65% of the juice,” Gardner said.
“A good tasting, high juice-content product makes a better tasting, more desirable dried product.”
Not only does leaving more juice in the dried fruit hold more of the signature tart flavor of cranberries, but it also retains more of the fruit’s health benefits.
Cranberries contain antioxidants, fiber and vitamin C. In addition, recent research at Rutgers University suggests cranberries may offer protection against certain antibiotic resistant bacteria, like those that cause urinary tract infections.
So far, the results have been positive, as Gardner expects very strong sales in the upcoming months.
“Demand seems to be good. As they’re coming off the line, sales are exceeding production.”
The 2013 surplus, and the subsequent drop in pricing, may even prove to be beneficial.
“Pricing is down to where we can compete against other fruits,” Gardner said.
Greg Glasser, third-generation owner of Los Angeles-based Torn & Glasser, which processes nuts, dates and dried fruits, had similar thoughts.
“They’ve become a popular fruit (because) other dried fruits are more expensive. They’re versatile, people like them.”