- Starting in mid-September, Ocean Spray farmers across the Northeast start hustling to harvest 100 billion cranberries in just six weeks.
- But this year, just as harvest was starting, a TikTok featuring a bottle of Ocean Spray Cran-raspberry juice went viral, prompting millions of copy-cat TikToks and clearing cranberry juice from shelves.
- To keep up with the unexpected demand from the TikTok and the normal, pre-holiday demand, Ocean Spray had to increase production and hire seasonal employees.
- Business Insider visited a bog in South Carver, Massachusetts and a manufacturing facility in Middleborough, Massachusetts to see how the company’s turning billions of cranberries into the famous juice.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Narrator: All of these cranberries end up as sauce, Craisins, or in juice bottles like this one, made famous by this viral TikTok. Since it was posted on September 25, the video has been viewed over 70 million times, and soon it was copied by celebrities and TikTokers across the globe. It was so popular that retailers struggled to keep Ocean Spray cran-raspberry juice on shelves. But just as the video took off, Ocean Spray farms across the Northeast were heading into their busiest season, harvest and holiday prep.
Scott Stears: Fall harvest is a wonderful thing, but it’s our most busy time of the year, by far. [laughs]
Narrator: The company has only six weeks to harvest 100 billion cranberries. All of that sudden demand and a pandemic made an already rushed harvest even harder. So, how did Ocean Spray do it?
Alison Gilmore Carr: Hey, Mike.
Mike: Hi, Alison. How are you, honey?
Gilmore Carr: Awesome. How are you?
Narrator: Well, it all starts here in the bog. You might recognize it from those commercials.
Advertisement: Hi, we’re Ocean Spray cranberry growers. And this is our 100% juice.
Narrator: Starting in the middle of September, the Gilmore family begins preparing its 100 acres of bogs for the wet harvest. Normally, the bogs look like this.
Gilmore Carr: Come right on.
Narrator: Dry fields.
Gilmore Carr: You can walk on this and not damage it. The cranberries grow just like this, in a layer of sand, peat, gravel, and clay. We use water to harvest the cranberries, but they don’t grow submerged in water. Some of the cranberry vines here on the bog are almost 90 years old.
Narrator: When it’s time to harvest, Alison will flood the bog with about a foot of water.
Gilmore Carr: Once we add the water, the cranberries start to float on the vine. Cranberries have four pockets of air inside.
Narrator: To knock the berries off those vines, farmers use a cranberry-harvesting machine.
Gilmore Carr: You can fairly easily take them right off. The harrow that Ben is using, he actually built that.
Narrator: The berries pop off and float to the top. Then for the fun part. Farmers strap on some waders and trudge out into the water.
Gilmore Carr: The cranberries are all floating to the top, and we’re standing on top of the vines. There isn’t anything quite like the experience of standing in a bog, but it does feel like I’m being hugged by all the cranberries. I do love that.
As you can see, this as a wide-open space, and we’ve put in place all the CDC guidelines. We are socially distanced by the nature of when we are farming, and we’ve put in masks.
Narrator: From inside the bog, farmers use what’s called a boom to corral all the berries bobbing on the surface.
Gilmore Carr: One of the things that is surprisingly difficult is pulling the boom. It’s heavy.
Narrator: 100% of Ocean Spray’s cranberries are grown sustainably. But not only is wet harvest environmentally friendly, it’s also efficient. Alison’s family can harvest up to 10 acres a day.
Gilmore Carr: We are harvesting in all different weather.
Farmer: We work every day for six to seven weeks, whatever it takes. Eight weeks, sometimes.
Gilmore Carr: The berry pump right over here, we can come over here and see. And as you can see, we’re paddling and gently pushing the cranberries into that pump that’s right there. The paddle helps to control the rate of which the cranberries are going into the pump. And the pump gently takes the cranberries up into a truck called the berry washer. The fruit is coming up through here. [machine whirring] It builds up, and then as it moves along, it goes in here, where there’s a break, and all the fruit gets washed, and it goes into the back of the truck.
Narrator: Those trucks say goodbye to Gilmore Farm and head out to the receiving station just up the road. Here, trucks coming from Massachusetts and Rhode Island line up by the dozens, waiting their turn to unload. Once in front, they back up and get locked into this giant lift. Hydraulics lift the front end up, and all the berries tumble out the back. The berries are cleaned again to get rid of the rest of the leaves and vine bits. Then they’re boxed and sent to one of the manufacturing plants. 1 1/2 million barrels will be processed here in just over a month. It’ll take the manufacturing plants a year to go through all those berries.
Over at the plant in Middleborough, Massachusetts, berries are turned into the products we see on the shelves.
Stears: We process all the fruit and freeze it, and then when it’s frozen, we can slice it to make that optimal sweet and dry cranberry.
Narrator: That’s Scott, head of engineering here.
Stears: We’re gonna go out to our fruit-delivery area and see where the fruit comes in and we kick-start the process. It’s going to be very loud, so we’ll be wearing ear protection and PPE.
Narrator: To continue operating under COVID-19 restrictions, Ocean Spray had to implement temperature checks, mandatory masks, and social distancing in its factories. After suiting up, we followed Scott into the freezer.
Stears: We store 3.1 million pounds in our local freezer, which is about two days of production.
Narrator: The berries chosen for Craisins, juice, or sauce have to be frozen first.
Stears: Once it’s frozen, it breaks down the cellular structure inside the cranberry and allows the juice to be released and processed.
Narrator: After they’re frozen, the berries are spiked to break them up.
Stears: Frozen fruit comes into the process, then we slice it, we defrost it, and then we extract the juice from the berries. This is where we’re extracting the juice.
Narrator: Once they’ve got the juice, it’s sent here to become a concentrate. That concentrate heads to another facility where the water, juices, and other ingredients are added in to become the now very famous juice.
Earl Larson: About 4,400 cranberries go into a typical bottle of cranberry juice.
Narrator: But after the juice gets extracted, those leftover berries don’t just get thrown away. They become the dried cranberries called Craisins.
Stears: As the fruit enters the dryer, it’s a 210-foot dryer that has three stages where we dry the fruit to the customers’ specification.
Narrator: Once there’s no liquid left, the dried cranberries can get flavorings.
Stears: Today we’re running strawberry on our production line, and it smells like strawberry shortcake in the facilities.
Narrator: Now for the sauce, Ocean Spray’s first product, introduced back in 1930. This year, Ocean Spray expects Americans to buy nearly 60 million cans of the stuff for the holidays. The berries get ground up into a puree. About 200 berries, along with sweeteners, go into each can of jellied sauce.
Larson: The process hasn’t changed so much. Some of the equipment we use and some of the training that’s required of the personnel has, but the general concept has not changed in almost 90 years.
Narrator: Once all the products are finished, they’re packaged up. And this robot does all the boxing.
Stears: This is our finished-goods cooler, where we store product that’s waiting to go out to the customer. We have 3,500 pallet spots in here and a total of 5,500 at the site. So less than three weeks, we turn all the inventory over here in the cooler.
Narrator: Between all the flavors of Craisins, juice, and sauce, Ocean Spray has more than 250 SKUs, or product types, on shelves across the globe.
Stears: 50% of it goes to Europe, and then the rest goes to our distribution centers here in the United States.
Narrator: Due to the demand from the viral TikTok and the harvest season, Ocean Spray says the plants are operating more than normal. The South Carver receiving center and the Middleborough plant had to hire over 230 seasonal employees. While Ocean Spray has increased production, the company says it’s too soon to tell how the TikTok actually affected sales.
Larson: I think everybody enjoyed it. I think a lot of us attempted at home or have family members that saw it. It was really fun. It was nice to be able to bring some good vibes to everyone.