The Cranberry Industry Goes to Washington

When consumers think of cranberries, many envision Ocean Spray’s folksy, unassuming family farmers dressed in flannel and waders surrounded by a luscious pool of floating, red fruit. It’s a wholesome and endearing image; great PR for cranberry juice.

Then why does the cranberry industry need Senators John Kerry and Scott Brown — both from Massachusetts, America’s cranberry capital — to lead a Cranberry Caucus in educating Congress and the American people about the health benefits of cranberries? It’s because Ocean Spray adds sugar to its juices and feels threatened by the latest upsurge in political efforts to marginalize sugary drinks from the marketplace. As this article in BusinessWeek explains, “Ocean Spray’s cranberry juice cocktail is not 100 percent juice; it’s 27 percent juice.”

Customers associate fruit with healthy living, but would balk at the idea of brands overleveraging the fruit aspects of their products at the expense of full disclosure.

With its Congressional Caucus, Ocean Spray is attempting to mitigate consumer, and political, backlash. The brand doesn’t want to focus on sugar, but the potential benefits drinking cranberry juice can have on your urinary tract. What 11-year-old wouldn’t find that appealing?

The public relations industry is caught in the middle of the debate that pits personal responsibility against corporate messaging. The truth, as with most debates, is probably somewhere in the middle. People must be held accountable for their own health, but brands must also be held accountable for being transparent.

Effective public relations will determine which brands survive this challenge to fruit juices. Is a Congressional caucus the answer? Thanks to Ocean Spray, we’ll know soon enough.