Ocean Spray's white knight

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Ocean Spray Cranberries hopes to innovate its way out of a sales slump with the $14 million launch this fall of its first white cranberry juices.

The juice blends, lighter and less tart than typical cranberry juice drinks, are intended to draw in young families with kids and help the cooperative grapple with a cranberry glut and increased competition in the juice aisle.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture last month ordered struggling growers to cut the amount of fruit they bring to market this fall by roughly 35%, although Ocean Spray spokesman Chris Phillips said that alone would not be enough to turn things around. Instead, he suggested, "The cranberry category needs to market its way out of the situation."

As the leader in the nearly $750 million cranberry juice category, controlling roughly 70% of U.S. cranberry industry sales, Ocean Spray is largely responsible for growing the market. Although its sales are down nearly 10%, the cooperative's growers in January voted against exploring options such as selling the company, deciding in favor of new CEO Rob Hawthorne's plan to rely on innovation, creative marketing and cost-cutting efforts.

White cranberry juice, made of cranberries harvested two to three weeks earlier than usual, is just the sort of "revolutionary category-defining" product launch Ocean Spray needs to bring excitement back to the juice aisle, Mr. Phillips said.

One East Coast grocery buyer agreed the product, while hardly revolutionary, would "definitely expand the category and bring in new users-especially kids-because it's sweeter."

To ensure consumers are aware of the new sweeter varieties-White Cranberry, White Cranberry Peach and White Cranberry Strawberry-Ocean Spray will spend roughly $14 million on a TV campaign from Havas Advertising's Arnold Worldwide, Boston. The ads, which break in November, will focus on the drink's smoother, less tart and more refreshing taste that makes it a healthy alternative throughout the day, not just at breakfast.

Core cranberry juice cocktail drinks appeal to slightly older consumers. The new white cranberry juices-introduced in family-sized, 64-ounce containers-are expected to appeal more broadly to young families, who are inundated with options from other juice marketers such as Coca-Cola Co.'s Minute Maid Co. and PepsiCo's Tropicana Products.

Although white cranberry juice, in development since 1991, is the largest of Ocean Spray's upcoming initiatives, it's not the only one. The cooperative, which also markets grapefruit juice, late this year will introduce a juice made from bigger, sweeter grapefruits-aptly named "sweety grapefruits." The launch will be backed this January by TV ads from Arnold, newspaper inserts and public relations.

Ocean Spray spent $19 million on media overall last year, according to Taylor Nelson Sofres' CMR. Much of that touted its new 100% juice lineup and promoted health benefits of cranberries; those efforts will continue. Ocean Spray's mainstay business-cranberry-based juice drinks-fell 9.9% to $411 million in the U.S. for the 52 weeks ended June 17, per Information Resources Inc., while its 100% juice lineup grew 22.4% to $75 million for the same period.

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