Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you have heard of Ocean Spray. Headquartered in Plymouth County, Massachusetts, they are an American agricultural cooperative of cranberry and grapefruit growers that has been around since the 1930s. You probably associate their cool-blue logo with the cranberry sauce you get for Thanksgiving dinner, but have you ever wondered what lies beyond that? Well, here are the Top 10 Untold Truths of Ocean Spray.
10. Viral Longboarder, Artist, and Juice Overnight
We all know how going viral on social media can change your entire life. Well, this month, it was Ocean Spray’s turn. They experienced their first true exposure on TikTok after a video, unwittingly featuring the brand, went viral. Nathan Apodaca, aka @420doggface208 on TikTok, starred in the now famous video of him longboarding to work after his car broke down. He was cruising down the road listening to the song Dreams by Fleetwood Mac, while drinking a big bottle of Ocean Spray Cranberry Juice. This simple yet relatable 23 second video quickly gained millions of views and caught the attention of many. Among them, Mick Fleetwood, the drummer for Fleetwood Mac. He took notice and joined Tik Tok specifically to recreate the iconic video. With this video alone, their song was back on the charts on iTunes, giving wide coverage to not only Ocean Spray, but also to the band. This trend basically created a snowball effect and another iconic public figure decided to hop on the bandwagon and recreated his own version, Dr. Phil! Stevie Nicks, another member of Fleetwood Mac, recently donned a pair of roller skates for her own version of the viral video. All these epic remakes left Ocean Spray no choice but to show their gratitude. As a thank you gift, they gave Apodaca a brand new Nissan pick-up truck filled with various Ocean Spray products.
9. They Completely Reimagined The Beverage Market
If you walk down a grocery store aisle today, you’ll likely see stacks and stacks of Ocean Spray products. They’ve got cranberry blends, grapefruit blends, white cranberry blends, cocktails, low-calorie drinks…In other words, if you can think of it, they’ve got it. The thing is, the beverage and fruit juice market wasn’t always like this. In fact, back in the day, there was no such thing as juice blends or juice boxes. Can you imagine your childhood without juice boxes? Can you imagine your mornings without a refreshing juice blend? Well, you can thank Ocean Spray for inventing the latter. So, how did it happen? Well, the three independent cranberry growers wanted to expand the market for cranberries, so they introduced Ocean Spray Cranberry Juice Cocktail in the 1930s. Over 30 years later, Ocean Spray revolutionized the cranberry market (and the juice market) when they introduced their first juice blend – Cran•Apple Cranberry Apple Juice Drink. Once the founders banded together to launch their first product – Jellied Cranberry Sauce – there was no stopping them. Growers from Wisconsin, Washington, and Oregon quickly joined the cooperative, and within its first decade, Ocean Spray became the first producer of cranberry juice drinks! Even though they do have more options now, it’s said that their original products remain the most popular.
8. The Great Cranberry Scare of 1959
How does a fifty-million-dollar-a-year business collapse over the span of a weekend you ask? Well here’s one way. On November 26, 1959, the former First Lady, Mamie Eisenhower, made an unusual choice for Thanksgiving dinner. Instead of serving the traditional cranberry sauce, she served applesauce. Now today, you wouldn’t think much of it. But when this was disclosed to the media by Rosalind Russell – an actress who had been present at the dinner – America took notice. Why? Because a few weeks beforehand, the Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare, Arthur S. Fleming, had informed the public that a small portion of cranberry crops from the Pacific Northwest had tested positive for aminotriazole, an herbicide that had been proven to cause abnormal growth in lab rats. Needless to say this caused public panic. Despite Ocean Spray protesting that only eating a carload of cranberries could have any ill-effect, stores began removing cranberry products from their shelves and restaurants did the same with their menus, resulting in a significant drop in sales, almost destroying the entire cranberry industry – and Ocean Spray right along with it – which at that time was still very much a seasonal business. No wonder they wanted to branch out with the addition of new juices!
7. The Name Was Thought Up By The Cranberry King
Did you ever wonder how the name Ocean Spray was created? It was conceived by a Boston lawyer named Marcus L. Urann, who gained a reputation as the “Cranberry King” for a cranberry sauce he packaged in tins and marketed under the brand as early as 1912. He is often said to be the man who first canned cranberry sauce. At the turn of the 20th century, he left his career as a lawyer in order to buy a cranberry bog. Why? Because he wanted to do something for the people, and for some reason, the first thought that came to his mind was to sell cranberries. Urann headed the Ocean Spray Preserving Company of South Hanson, Massachusetts and he proposed a merger to form a large, powerful cooperative. He reasoned that a merger would allow for greater marketing clout and erase the stiff competition he faced from two very important companies the Makepeace Preserving Co. of Wareham, Massachusetts, and The Enoch F. Bills Co. of New Egypt, New Jersey. The other two owners involved in Urann’s proposed merger, John C. Makepeace and Elizabeth F. Lee, joined Urann in signing a certificate of incorporation in June 1930. Even though the Ocean Spray trademark delay jeopardized the merger, by August, Cranberry Canners, Inc. had been formed and Ocean Spray’s survival was thus ensured. Hey, with easily accessible canned cranberry sauce and delicious juice, we’re definitely not complaining.
6. About Those Ocean Spray Berries
Before we talk about cranberries, we must first acknowledge that not everyone calls them that. To Eastern Natives, they were “sassamanesh.” Cape Cod Pequots and South Jersey Leni-Lenape tribes called them “ibimi,” or the bitter berry. And the Algonquins of Wisconsin dubbed the fruit “atoqua.” But it was the early German and Dutch settlers who started calling it the “crane berry” because of the flower’s resemblance to the head and bill of a crane. You’re probably wondering why we’re talking about this. Well, being one of only three fruits native to North America, it was Native Americans who were the first to use these berries in different ways. For example, by mixing mashed cranberries with deer meat, they made a survival food called pemmican. They also believed in the medicinal value of the cranberry, using the berry in poultices to draw poison from arrow wounds. And the rich red juice of the cranberry was used as a natural dye for rugs, blankets and clothing. These are just some of the reasons the cranberry has been called the ‘wonderberry’. In any case, the only reason we call one of the most unique fruits in the world a cranberry is because of the settlers. They grow in the wild on long-running vines in sandy bogs and marshes. While they’re primarily harvested in the Northeast, cranberries also grow in other parts of North America, like Wisconsin and the Pacific Northwest.
5. Cranberries Are A Superfruit
We’ve got some good news for all the cranberry lovers out there: cranberries are widely recognized as one of Mother Nature’s Superfruits! The cranberry contains essential vitamins, minerals, and dietary fiber. Researchers have also linked the nutrients found in these wonderberries to the prevention of certain types of cancer, improved immune function, and decreased blood pressure! Among the more well-known benefits are the anti-bacterial properties that help prevent certain bacteria from sticking within the body. The cranberry is also naturally low in sugar and packed with antioxidant polyphenols, a type of micronutrients that we get through certain plant-based foods. There’s also the case of prebiotics and probiotics. If you’re unaware of what those terms mean, basically we use prebiotics and probiotics to keep the good bacteria we have in our gut balanced. Probiotics, or beneficial bacteria, have been hailed as the ultimate support for the immune and digestive systems, however, probiotics would not be effective without prebiotics. Prebiotics are food ingredients that fuel the probiotics you consume and the good bacteria in your gut. Most plant cell walls are indigestible, and cranberries contain a special type of carbohydrate called xyloglucans that good gut bacteria utilizes as an energy source. More data is required to find out what exact role cranberries might be playing when it comes to gut health, but with its inherent powerful nutrients and well-documented health benefits, there’s no debate that cranberry can play an important role in a balanced diet and healthy lifestyle.
4. The Secret Behind Wet Harvesting Cranberries
First and foremost, cranberries are grown in a bog – an area of soft, marshy ground with acidic peat soil, usually near wetlands. This is where the cranberries grow on long-running vines. You can find them all over North and South America, from Massachusetts to Washington, parts of British Columbia and Quebec, and even Chile. A different kind of chilly is the sign for when the real cranberry farming takes place. Fall is harvesting season, so every autumn, the cranberries will reach their peak color and flavor. In other words, that’s when they’re ready for picking… or scooping. So, how do they get harvested? Have you ever seen those photos of cranberries floating on top of the water? Well, that’s a method called wet harvesting, where the bog is flooded with up to 18 inches of water the night before the berries are to be collected. The growers then use water reels, nicknamed “eggbeaters,” to churn the water and loosen the cranberries from the vines. Each berry has tiny pockets of air that allow it to float to the surface of the water. From there, they’re corralled together, loaded into trucks, and shipped off to be made into juice or sauce or whatever fits your cranberry fancy.
3. Wait, So What’s Dry Harvesting?
If wet harvesting seems like an extreme method to harvest cranberries, there’s also another way: dry harvesting. You’re probably wondering why they would harvest some cranberries one way and other cranberries in a different way. Well, it’s all about freshness and the quality of cranberry that they need. Wet harvesting is better for things like cranberry sauce and juices, while dry harvesting is good for the fresh cranberries that you buy in the supermarket. So how is it done? Cranberry growers will use a mechanical picker that resembles a lawnmower. It has metal teeth that comb the berries off the vine and deposit them in a burlap sack at the back of the machine. Helicopters are sometimes used to transport the sacks to protect the vines from the traffic of heavy trucks! In any case, it’s no surprise that they employ over 2000 people – it’s a lot of work to get done in the span of a month and a half!
2. A Berry Bad Scandal
Aside from the cranberry scare of 1959, Ocean Spray has been involved in a small number of scandals. The very first one was in June 2006, when the cranberry company was confronted by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, aka PETA. Why was PETA on their case? Well, it turns out that Ocean Spray was conducting unethical research on lab mice. It seems the company had previously funded tests that involved injecting lab mice with H. pylori, a type of bacteria that causes stomach ulcers. After the mice got their ulcers, they were fed cranberry juice. Scientists wanted to see if the juice had a positive effect on the ulcers in the mice. While Ocean Spray’s intentions may have been good – the research was conducted to determine whether or not it could be used as a digestif – the means by which they went about it however, weren’t the most transparent. The only other prominent scandal was actually quite recent: in January 2020, Ocean Spray settled a class-action lawsuit that claimed its products were misleading by stating in advertisements that they do not contain artificial flavors. Since they contain malic acid and/or fumaric acid, the company agreed to pay $5.4 million dollars to claimants.
1. Ocean Spray Has a Bog Cam!
While the cranberries are only harvested in autumn, growing them is a year-round affair. This includes frost protection in the winter and pest management in the spring, then there’s weed control and bee pollination in the summer. And that’s not even the half of it, there are plenty of other important steps that we don’t even see. All of this comes to a head in the fall, when the berries reach their peak color and ripeness and are ready to be harvested. All the way back in 2012, when this sort of technology was brand new and shiny, Ocean Spray put out a Facebook post in honor of Dr. Seuss’ Birthday. They claim that taking a (live) look at their cranberry bog would remind viewers of Seuss’s popular book “Oh, The Places You’ll Go”. The post was met with wonder – people commented that they never realized how big the bog was, and how beautiful the berries looked. It also prompted some curiosity: how are the vines protected during harvest? What are the best ways to cook cranberries? This video feed got people talking about cranberries. It turns out that Ocean Spray quite liked the idea of showing their customers exactly where their products come from, because eight years later, deep into into 2020, they’re still doing it. A quick Google search or a link from their website can take you right to it, and before you know it, you too will be gawking at the sheer beauty that is miles upon miles of bright red cranberries.