( File photo )

The Wisconsin cranberry crop is looking good.

Bob Wilson, founding partner of Wisconsin Rapids, Wis.-based The Cranberry Network said in early September that the harvest would begin in the latter part of the month.

“We’re cautiously optimistic at this point that the crop is looking very solid, particularly in comparison with the last couple of seasons we have had,” Wilson said.

The Cranberry Network markets fruit from fourth-generation fresh cranberry grower Habelman Bros. Co., Tomah, Wis., and features the Habelman label and various private labels. Fruit is also packed under the Naturipe label.

Wilson said the marketer will begin shipping the week of Sept. 21, with harvest continuing in Wisconsin through October.

Fruit will be stored in 300-pound bulk bins and packed to order through Dec. 15 or Dec. 20, Wilson said.
Wisconsin cranberries are raised in south, center and northern growing regions, following the path of the long-ago glacial retreat through the center of the state. The southern growing region is near Tomah, with the center region near Wisconsin Rapids and the northern region near Wausau, Wis.

“There is a tremendous amount of sand base, a tremendous amount of available water and acidic soil; all of those components add up to be prime cranberry ground,” Wilson said.

Despite a slow start, the growing season featured more heat units and degree growing days. “We had a very on-time and good quality bloom period, good fruit set after bloom, and the temperatures in Wisconsin have been conducive to good sizing of the fruit that is set,” he said.

“We are looking forward to excellent quality and excellent quantity of fruit for the fresh season this year,” Wilson said.

Promotion opportunities

While only 3% of the total U.S. cranberry crop is shipped fresh, the bigger expected harvest this year will provide strong fresh market volume, Wilson said.

While last year’s fresh supply was limited because of a reduced crop, he said this year’s expected larger fruit will provide ample fresh cranberry supplies.

Provided late-season weather conditions don’t hurt the crop, Wilson predicted good volumes for promotion before Thanksgiving and even December Christmas promotions.

“I expect the quality to be excellent,” he said, noting expectations of thick-walled, long shelf-life fresh cranberries.

Wisconsin is a big factor in world cranberry output, accounting for about 55% of global supply, Wilson said.

COVID-19 Effect

Wilson said the COVID-19 pandemic has changed typical marketing and customer relations, ending tours of growing and packing facilities.

The outlook for cranberry demand could be helped by its reputation as a superfruit, Wilson said.

“During the second quarter of this year, the demand for cranberry (products) at the consumer level took a big jump because cranberries are considered to have a health halo,” he said.

“There is a tremendous health benefit to regular consumption (of) cranberries; we don’t see anything adverse on the horizon with respect to consumer demand for fresh cranberries,” he said.

Packaging evolutions

The most popular packaging option is the 12-ounce poly bag, Wilson said, which remains the low-cost efficient way to put cranberries on the market.

“Over the years, there were some really trying to push clamshell, but there is a bit bigger carbon footprint with that, so it’s more expensive,” Wilson said.

Organic fruit is offered in 8-ounce and 12-ounce bags.

With its colloboration with Naturipe, The Cranberry Network offers a 32-ounce (2-pound) grab-and-go preformed bag with a zipper seal. 

“It has got a nice handle on it, so that’s been out for a couple of years and we see growth in demand for that type of packaging,” he said.

The volume of organic cranberries is still relatively small, but is gradually increasing with persistent demand from processors and the fresh market, he said.

The firm packs organic cranberries under its Habelman label, the Naturipe label and private labels mostly with poly bags, but also some clamshells and a grab-and-go bag. 


The Packer's Cranberries