Behind the brand: Ocean Spray

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Photo by Alesia Kozik

If you like cranberry sauce with your Turkey, enjoy a cranberry smoothie, or are partial to a Vodka with cranberry juice, then it is likely that you are a customer of Ocean Spray.

Ocean Spray is responsible for 65% of the world’s cranberries, a market share that makes De Beers infamous dominance of the diamond trade look like small fry (for reference, De Beers now controls around 40% of the diamond market, down from around 80% in the late 1980s).

But Ocean Spray is not a publicly traded company, and nor is it a private enterprise. Instead, Ocean Spray has been run as a farmer’s co-operative for almost a hundred years and is owned by some 700 families.

The model is quite simple. The families grow the cranberries and they pay executives to run the business. And $2 billion in annual sales suggests the model is working pretty well.

“The mindset and attitude that we need to come up with something is the spirit of what farmers do,” Tom Hayes, the current CEO of Ocean Spray, told the Wall Street Journal recently.

That something is a relentless quest to find new ways to sell cranberries to consumers all year round.

This is why Ocean Spray makes such a diverse range of products, from limited edition blended juices and chocolate dipped dried fruit packs to cordials and collaborations with Absolut Vodka.

Ocean Spray’s origins stretch back to 1930, when “three maverick farmers,” decided to band together rather than compete for sales of canned cranberry sauce.

Farmer Shawn Cutts told the WSJ why Ocean Spray works for his family today.

“We have a world-class team of people taking our fruit, processing it, marketing it and innovating with it – which none of us would be able to do on our own.

“All the profits go right back to the farmers because we are the shareholders.”

The brand received an unlikely boost thanks to a viral TikTok video in 2020, when Nathan Apodaca (aka Dogg Face) filmed himself drinking from a bottle of Ocean Spray while skateboarding to Fleetwood Mac ‘Dreams’.

Leaning into this the brand has since commissioned a series of quirky ad spots.

Ocean Spray’s chief commercial officer, Monisha Dabek, told The Drum: “You have to stay relevant, stay connected and continue to create that conversation. It was a turning point for the brand.”

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