Tuesday, December 11, 2007


UNNATI GANDHI
From Friday's Globe and Mail
December 7, 2007 at 4:52 AM EST
A cocktail of poor weather conditions, health-conscious consumers and the generous use of cranberries in everything from trail mixes to lotions has led to an industry-wide shortage of the tart red fruit this year, production and retail officials say.
And the timing couldn't have been worse, with the annual cranberry binge set to begin with the holiday season.
Blake Johnston, president of Canada's largest cranberry packing company, Bezanson & Chase of Aylesford, N.S., said he has produced 50 per cent fewer cranberries this season than expected.
"I'm short two million pounds of fresh cranberries, and that shortage started in September and continued through the season. And I've already gone through about two million pounds this year," he said in a telephone interview from Wisconsin. "I'm out here right now looking for cranberries, and there are none." Shortages tend to mean price hikes on dwindling inventories.
Prices have gone up by as much as 20 per cent in some markets this year, according to Jean-Fran├žois Bieler of Atoka Cranberries in Manseau, Que.
According to data from the Cranberry Marketing Company, a U.S. industry group, the wholesale price of cranberry-juice concentrate charged by processors to juice makers and other distributors increased to $65 (U.S.) a gallon last month from $45 in August.
Mr. Bieler is one of those dried cranberry and juice concentrate processors. His company operates the largest single-site cranberry farm in the world, and exports 90 per cent of its inventory.
Mr. Bieler said that with a 15-per-cent decline in supply industry-wide since last year, and at least a 7-per-cent increase in demand, price increases this season are going to be "pretty impressive," going well beyond the average $2.99 per 12 oz. package.
In Canada, where cranberries are typically grown in Atlantic Canada and Ontario's Muskoka region, cooler and drier than normal summers in Quebec and New Brunswick this year have led to a 30-per-cent crop decline, he said.
"All I can suggest is if you see fresh cranberries in the supermarket, buy them now and put them in the freezer," Mr. Bieler said.
Tammy Smitham, spokeswoman for A&P, said there was a shortage in supplies after the U.S. Thanksgiving, but the chain is hopeful that it will have enough to last through to Christmas.
"But there won't be any especially hot advertising or promotion on it because we want to be able to ensure that we can meet demand right through," she said.
What's driving the increase in demand, which has steadily risen by 20 per cent each of the past five years in Canada and the United States, Mr. Bieler said, is the use of cranberries in everything "healthy," including cereals, granola bars and snacks.
"Whereas before it used to be just around the holidays, it's almost a staple food now. There's less and less seasonality with cranberries now."
Much of that is attributed to the marketing efforts of industry leader Ocean Spray Cranberries Inc., which has been promoting the health benefits of the fruit for several years. Included in that is research that has shown cranberry juice may prevent urinary tract infections. Several studies have found that that the fruit also has high levels of antioxidants.
"We've had wild increase in demand for our products over the past year or two ... definitely in the double digits internationally and domestically," Ocean Spray spokesman Chris Phillips said.


Marc Stevens

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