The U.S. cranberry industry is looking increasingly to export markets, and for good reason, marketers say.

"Right now, about 35% of the crop is sold overseas, so it's an important component," said Tom Lochner, executive director of the Wisconsin Rapids-based Wisconsin Cranberry Growers Association.

Only 10-15 years earlier, the industry exported no more than about 10% of U.S. cranberries, said Brian Wick, executive director of the Cape Cod Cranberry Growers Association in Carver, Mass.

A lot of education has gone into building new markets, Wick said.

"Back then, the strong markets were the United Kingdom and countries that are a little more familiar with the cranberry. Now, the movement is to countries with little or no familiarity," he said.

As word spreads, so does hope for bigger global sales, Wick said.

"There are many countries the industry is reaching where there's great potential but a lot of education that goes along with that," he said.

Those new markets are "critical to our success," and opportunities will continue to grow as the Cranberry Marketing Committee determines where it's best to use grower funds, Wick said.

"It's critical we find the right markets and do everything we can to help expand as quickly and profitably as possible," he said.

A strong export market has much potential for further growth, said Michelle Hogan, executive director of the Wareham, Mass.-based Cranberry Marketing Committee.

"We have robust programs in China, South Korea, Mexico, India and pan-Europe," Hogan said.

Exports increased 7% overall and 16% in target markets in 2015, Hogan said.

"These target markets are placing a value on healthy diets and recognize the value of cranberries as a versatile, healthy ingredient," she said.

Marketers say they also are focusing on domestic sales, but it's prudent to find new customers globally.

"While cranberries are unique to the Americas, they are increasingly exported to be part of holiday celebrations, particularly Christmas dinner," said Kellyanne Dignan, senior manager of corporate communications with Lakeville-Middleboro, Mass.-based Ocean Spray Cranberries.

There's no telling how much the global market for cranberries can expand, said Mary Brown, owner of Glacial Lake Cranberries in Wisconsin Rapids, Wis.

"There are millions of people in the world who have never had cranberries. It's all in marketing, marketing, marketing."

Sheridan, Ore.-based HBF International LLC has found growing markets in Asia, Europe and Canada through its season, said Doug Hurst, sales director.

"There has been an increased demand for cranberries in the export market," he said.

Excitement over the prospects for growth in the export market is justified, said Bob Wilson, managing member of the Wisconsin Rapids-based Cranberry Network LLC, which markets fruit grown by Tomah, Wis.-based Habelman Bros. Co.

"It's looking good," he said.

Hopes are particularly high where the Asian markets are concerned, he said.

"I'd imagine that would catch on in Asian markets over time because we're doing a lot of investment in creating cranberry industry around the world," he said.

"There's really interesting demand that's catching on quickly with dried, sweetened cranberries as a snacking item or an ingredient that replaces raisins. It's a bigger challenge to create that demand in the fresh sector, but we're having progress. We're excited about what international sales look like going forward."

It's important to remember there still are plenty of marketing opportunities at home, Lochner said.

"We still feel the domestic market has a lot of potential, but there's a lot of opportunity overseas," he said.

"Cranberries are native to America, and once people discover them, there is plenty of opportunity."

 

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