Corps de l’article
Quebec, often associated with maple syrup and apples, is making waves with another fruit: cranberries. The province’s abundant berry bogs, clustered primarily in the St-Louis-de-Blandford region, yield 25 million tons of cranberries annually, generating nearly $20 million for farmers. About half of these cranberries go to the Ocean Spray cooperative, which markets the fruit in a variety of products.
Although cultivation of cranberries began in the 19th century, cranberry sauce only really started in the early 20th century as a way to preserve broken berries. “There’s no dirty secrets about growing cranberries,” says Hal Brown, the erstwhile moderator of a now inactive cranberry forum at www.cranberrystressline.com. “It’s the marketing of them that has the dirty secrets.”  Marketing fruit involves altering it, often beyond recognition.
A few years back, Brown led the charge against a misguided attempt by Ocean Spray to market white cranberries as a delicious new variety of cranberry. “They’re just unripe berries,” fumes Brown. The label on the juice led consumers to believe otherwise: “These all natural, fully ripened, white cranberries come from the first harvest of the season so they’re milder than traditional red cranberries.” The scam didn’t last long. “We complained at the Federal Trade Commission,” says Brown. “It was an outright lie on the label.”  The language has now been altered.
White cranberry juice had been part of Ocean Spray’s attempt to cope with a crash in the value of cranberries. Brown says that in the early 1990s they were selling for $80 a barrel; by 2001, when white cranberry juice was launched, they were selling for $12 a barrel. Breaking even takes about $18-22 a barrel. “The crash was a classic case of oversupply,” says Randy Papadellis, Ocean Spray’s new CEO. “It was Economics 101: demand declined, supply kept pouring in, and the price of cranberry declined—quite dramatically.” 
Growers who were able to weather the crash seem at peace with the ups and downs of their commodity. “The crash was a good thing,” explains Alison Gilmore Carr, a sixth generation Massachusetts cranberry farmer. “It helped people realize who really wanted to do it and who were hobby farmers.” 
“Growing cranberries used to be a pleasant way of life,” sighs Brown. “It’s pretty, it’s scenic, you could make some money, hire an employee or two, pay them a 30k salary. If prices had stayed up, we could have easily made 300k per year. Thank god my wife is a librarian and I’m a psychotherapist.” 
Desperate times in the fruit world seem to call for intensified marketing practices. Ocean Spray’s growers recently decided to start advertising and came up with a unique way of spreading their message: a campaign called “Bogs across America.” Over the past few years, they have constructed bogs in several cities in North America (and England) as a way of showing people how cranberries grow. According to their promotional materials, only 28% of Americans have ever heard of a cranberry bog—very few, considering that 10.8 billion cranberries are eaten every holiday season.
What follows was overheard at the cranberry bog erected in the courtyard of the Rockefeller Center in November 2006. This is an example of fruit marketing— “Straight from the Bog,” as Ocean Spray’s motto puts it.
Customer in line at coffee stall: “What’s going on over there?”
Other customer in same line: “There’s a bunch of cranberries in a big box full of water and there’s guys standing around pushing sticks in it and shit. [Shrugs] It’s a’ight.”
Bystander in cashmere sweater (to group of Ocean Spray executives): “Why are you here?”
Randy Papadellis, Ocean Spray CEO: “People know cranberry juice, but very few people are familiar with how it’s grown. That’s why we’re doing this.”
Japanese Journalist: “Why do it here at the Rockefeller Center?”
Ken Romanzi, Ocean Spray COO: “Because it’s right in front of NBC studios, where the Christmas tree is. We said, ‘Let’s get Al Roker in the bog.’ And we got him in the bog.”
Business man (to farmer): “What are you doing?”
Peter Beaton, Ocean Spray grower: “I don’t know if there’s a good answer to that. We’re small farmers and it’s good to show the people what we do. There’s a beauty to what we do. How many people get to see this in real life? We’re so far in the woods nobody can see us. We’re coming out of the hinterland to meet the people. This is how we make our living. This is how I feed my family. It’s a beautiful thing and we just want to share it with other people.”
Businessman: “You’re totally standin’ in the cranberries. Why are you doing this?”
Beaton: “This is how we harvest cranberries.” 
Businessman (fondling berries): “Are they real?”
Young man wearing headphones and a black panthers pin: “Get outta here. These are actual cranberries?”
Spanish Tourist (with rest of family scrunching their faces, as though vaguely disapproving): “We don’t understand, what is the situation?”
Gentleman in a yarmulke: “I would like to inquire about obtaining an Ocean Spray cap.”
Elderly man (staring at the bog, perplexed): “What’s that rake for? What’s the purpose? Are you combing the berries? Is it just decoration?”
Beaton: “The stick is for raking the berries, and testing the bog floor for holes. You don’t want to fall in the bog.”
Salesman from NBC (pointing at ad stating “Cranberry: the wonderberry!”): “What’s a woooonnnnderberry?”
Media Buyer from Ocean Spray: “It’s a cranberry. ‘It’s nutritious, it’s delicious, and it’ll stop the burning.’” 
Smiling girl wearing polka dots: “Hello there, bog lady. How much fun is this?”
Sharon Newcomb, Ocean Spray grower: “You like this, huh?”
Girl in polka dots (to journalist): “Excuse me, I just have to ask: are you writing the bog blog?”
Journalist: “No, I’m just eavesdropping.”
Salesman from NBC: “What’s a bog?”
Media Buyer from Ocean Spray: “This is a bog. It’s where they grow cranberries.”
Farmer (to NBC salesman): “Thanks for stopping by.”
Salesman from NBC (shaking farmer’s hand): “Thanks for your business.” 
Susan Gilmore, 5th generation Massachusetts cranberry farmer (marveling at the sight): “You put a few trees there and take away the pavement and you got a real bog.”
Journalist: “What’s the difference between a bog and a marsh?”
Alison Gilmore Carr, 6th generation Massachusetts cranberry farmer: “A bog is the same thing as a marsh. In Massachusetts we call them bogs. Growers from Wisconsin call them ‘marshes.’ In Wisconsin, they asked me if I live in my marsh.”
Gilmore: “They’re marshans!”
Gilmore Carr: “All my life I thought it was just a bog. They were like ‘bawg?’ I was like ‘marsh?’”
Gilmore: “A marsh has more grass. A swamp has a lot more water and trees.”
Randy Papadellis, Ocean Spray CEO: “Bog sounds more romantic than swamp.”
Man in a yellow corduroy jacket (pointing at water): “That’s a blog? Doesn’t a blog have something to do with the internet?”
Gary Garretson, Ocean Spray grower: “This is a bog. I don’t know about the interweb. I’m a bog-guy.”
Man in a yellow corduroy jacket: “So what’s it like walking in a blog?”
Garretson (wearing olive-colored waist-level plastic galoshes pants): “It’s cold. It’s like standing in a freezing pool wearing plastic bags. I left my insulated boots at home.”
Man in a yellow corduroy jacket: “Farmers have a good sense of humour. All that hard work. (Then, with a twinge of sadness, as though noticing some abandoned orphans.) What about the white ones? They just didn’t get ripe?”
Romanzi: “White cranberries are milder.”
Journalist: “Milder? How can that be?”
Romanzi: “They’re less tart at that point. There’s less sugar in them. But they have all the health benefits.”
Journalist (skeptical): “Hmmm.”
Papadellis: “I used to work at Welch’s, so I saw the power of the white grape.”
Woman in pashmina scarf: “I don’t like white cranberry juice. It tastes like wine that went bad. It tastes fermented.”
Romanzi (switching gears): “Our vision is to make the cranberry harvest as popular as the pumpkin harvest.”
Journalist (taking the bait): “Pumpkins have Halloween—do cranberries own Thanksgiving?”
Romanzi: “Pretty much. 93% of Thanksgiving occasions have our products. Probably more. Probably over 95% including fresh berries.”
Gilmore Carr: “Cranberries have ‘high household penetration.’”
Woman in massive fur coat and gold chameleon earrings (mincing about): “I wish I had a cranberry muffin right now.”
Blonde woman in turtleneck: “Have you seen the decorative bog at the Bellagio in Vegas? I was there when they released the berries.”
Porter from the Rockefeller center in a uniform and cap: “I’m here to make sure people get the right information. (Brings some timid tourists from Argentina over to meet one of the growers.) They not gonna bite. Are you afraid of cranberries? You should be afraid of the vodka in them.”
Garretson: “There’s no vodka in here.”
Romanzi: “Cranberries and vodka are in sea breezes, cosmopolitans, cape codders. We have a partnership with Absolut vodka.”
Garretson: “The strangest question I’ve been asked was when one kid asked if I make any money with cranberries. I said, ‘My own kids ask me that.’ (Hollering at departing visitors): Don’t forget to drink cranberry juice!”
Departing visitors: “Ocean Spray!”
Garretson: “Twice a day.”
Schoolboy: “Why are they called cranberries?”
Farmer: “The natives called it crane berry because its white blossom resembles the neck, head, and bill of a crane. When a drained bog is in flower, it’s like walking on a clean white sheet. It’s the prettiest fragrance you ever did smell.”
French woman (to husband): “What’s the mister doing in there?”
French man: “They’re pushing cherries around.”
Farmer: “They aren’t cherries, they’re cranberries.”
French couple (staring blankly): “Grambies? What do they do with them?”
(The farmer explains about Thanksgiving and turkey with cranberry sauce.)
French woman: “Well. We have dinde au marrons, and you have turkey with gumberries.”
French man (biting into a cranberry and making a face): “Ca va, hein?”
French woman (taking out camera): “I don’t know why he’s walking in the cherries, I mean grambries. But we’ll take a photo anyway.”
(Farmer starts raking berries for the camera, rippling the top layer of berries, which looks like a carpet, or a mosaic tile floor, or one of those optical illusions you stare at until a 3-D image appears.)
Bystander: “It smells like pizza.”
Romanzi: “We’re the number one brand of shelf-stable juice drinks.”
Journalist: “What about Tropicana?”
Romanzi: “That’s dairy.”
Journalist: “Orange juice is dairy?”
Romanzi: “It’s in the dairy section.”
Confused person: “How do you put all the air in the cranberries so they float?”
Sharon Newcomb, ocean spray grower: “Mother nature takes care of that.” 
French teenagers: “C’est quoi? Oh, c’est des cranberries. Les Americains font du vin avec. On s’en fout.”
Businessmen: “What’s this?”
Other businessman: “It’s an ad campaign. Let’s go.”
Wistful Onlooker: “Who knew they were such a swampy fruit?”
Tax lawyer (to young woman): “Putting them in a pool of brackish water in downtown Manhattan is supposed to build up your appetite?”
Journalist: “Excuse me, did you say brackish?”
Tax lawyer: “Yes, brackish.” (Woman walks away.)
Journalist (to lawyer): “What do you make of all this?”
Tax lawyer (looking nervously at journalist’s notebook): “I think it’ll work. It’ll make people go home and buy cranberries. There’s a very nice conjunction: Rockefeller Center, Thanksgiving, holidays, cranberries, agriculture are all very American things. It’s a nice tie-in.”
Man in sunglasses and a trench coat: “This is strange.”
Tax lawyer (to farmer): “I have a question: why did the Europeans bring back potatoes, tomatoes, and all sorts of other foods from the new world, but not cranberries?”
Farmer: “That, I don’t know.”
Italian woman with braces (pointing at berries): “Es para mangiare? Es comistible?” Farmer: “Yes, go ahead and eat one.”
Italian woman with braces (biting into cranberry): “Amaro!”
Tax lawyer: “It’s rare to find really electrifyingly tart foods these days. Raw cranberries are so sour they’re almost shrill. I like that.”
Little girl (picking berries off the vine and throwing them in to farmers): “Here!”
Mother (scolding her daughter for throwing the berries): “Honey, stop that.”
Little girl (pointing at smiling farmer): “But I’m helping him.”
- Hal Brown (formerly the moderator of a now inactive cranberry forum), phone interview with the author, July 2006.
- Randy Papadellis (CEO, Ocean Spray), interview with the author at the cranberry bog erected in the courtyard of Rockefeller Center in New York City, November 2006.
- Alison Gilmore Carr (Massachusetts cranberry farmer), interview with the author at the Rockefeller Center bog, November 2006.
- Brown, interview.
- Every one of Ocean Spray’s yearly 500 million pounds of cranberries grow on low-running vines in dry, sandy bogs that are flooded with a foot and a half of water at harvest time. A tractor-like machine called an “egg-beater” is then driven into the bog to stir up the water and separate the cranberries from the vines. Because the berries have little air pockets, they float to the top of the water. They are then corralled in one corner of the bog where they are vacuumed into trucks and brought to factories for sorting. They can also be dry harvested with the gnashing metal teeth of a lawn-mower-like machine that bites them off the vine and spits them into burlap sacks that are then airlifted away by helicopters.
- Cranberries have been proven to help with everything from ulcers to bladder infections. The healing powers come from proanthocyanidins (PACs) that basically surround harmful bacteria (such as E. coli) and prevent them from sticking to our insides. According to Romanzi, it also cleans cardiovascular clogs—maybe. “There’s no concrete evidence yet,” he said. “But where there’s smoke there’s fire.” Suffice it to say that they are good for you, although all the sugar they put in the drink counteract against the benefits, so it is best to get pure cranberry juice, ideally organic.
- This was a propitious moment for the eavesdropping journalist, whose was amazed by the sight of a Madison avenue advertising executive thanking a farmer standing in a pool of cranberries for his business. Yet it makes sense: Ocean Spray advertises on NBC; and as a co-op, every Ocean Spray grower actually owns a share of the business and is involved in making decisions such as where to place their marketing dollars.
- Remember: those small pockets of air are the reason that cranberries float. Cranberries also bounce—as New Jersey’s John “Peg Leg” Webb discovered in the 1880s—he used to pour lift bushels of cranberries down the stairs. Fresh, firm berries bounced to the bottom; bruised and broken berries didn’t. They used to be called bounceberries. Today, industry sorting machines called “Bailey bounce boards” or “Bailey separators” operate on the same principle. If the berries bounce four times over the hurdles, they’re used in the fresh market. If they don’t, they first need to fall down seven stairs. Those that don’t are tossed. Those that do make it to the bottom then end up on a conveyor belt that sends them cascading over a precipice, sort of like a cranberry waterfall. At that point, an optical sorter and key separator equipped with 120 cameras films the berries and at the slightest hint of an imperfection a very precise gun shoots out a burst of air in a split second that blows the specific damaged berry out of the lineup. The next level of verification takes the berries into room lit with ultraviolet lights—bad berries emit a fluorescent glow in blacklight that makes it easy to pick off the conveyor belts. Then they do other things to them, like make juice and cranberry logs.
Adam Gollner is a Montreal-based journalist. His book, The Fruit Hunters: A Story of Nature, Adventure, Commerce and Obsession, has just been released by Scribner.