The Sucking Sound of History - Ocean Spray

photo by @Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash

photo by @Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash



Strange things I considered food in the late 60s and early 70s include Spaghettios and Swanson TV dinners (comprised of mushy peas and carrots, Salisbury steak and some variation of cobbler). I drank Tang, slurped canned Del Monte fruit cups and ate Hostess Ding Dongs for dessert. Holidays became special for many products, most notably the Ocean Spray cranberry sauce ceremoniously served with accompanying “fump” as the gelatinous cranberry mixture slid from the can. Happy Holidays!

In the decades that followed I discovered fresh produce, including actual cranberries (also Ocean Spray) which routinely appeared before Thanksgiving in the produce section of the grocery store. I learned to enjoy a multitude of recipes made with fresh cranberries turned into rich and zesty sauces. Cranberries are still a favorite fruit for me today.

Even though it’s been years, I bet I would still enjoy a slice of canned cranberry sauce to travel back for a moment to the childhood holiday table.

For companies, customer loyalty is a prized response. In a world where consumers are bombarded by marketing everywhere, a quiet and intimate relationship via storytelling can differentiate a company from all the noise.


Given my weird nostalgia for canned cranberry sauce, I was buoyed (like floating cranberries) to learn that Boston Lawyer Marcus L. Urann invented the canned sauce and began marketing it in 1912 under the name Ocean Spray. Urann was also behind creating the consortium of cranberry and grapefruit producers (now numbering almost 1,000 family farmers) who each had stakes in this newly-formed marketing cooperative.

Urann reasoned that a cooperative would give all the procedures marketing clout, plus he wanted to muscle out other producer-canners in his particular market. The farmers of the collective were located in Canada, New Jersey, Wisconsin, Oregon, and Washington. Together they collectively worked to increase awareness of their product and develop additional uses for cranberries beyond the holidays. Ocean Spray eventually renamed itself the National Cranberry Association (NCA), and in 1946 they began marketing fresh cranberries in cellophane packaging.

In 1959, the NCA reverted to the name Ocean Spray just as the cranberry industry suffered a major blow. On November 9, the Secretary of the Department of Health announced that the residue from the potentially cancer-causing weed killer some used, aminotriazole, was found during testing on cranberries produced in Washing and Oregon. In response, grocers pulled all cranberries off the shelves just as the Thanksgiving season was about to commence, which nearly decimated the industry.


In 1960, with the help of government subsidies the industry survived, but Ocean Spray now faced the challenge of having a glut of cranberries. The cooperative needed to explore new marketing strategies and product development. They hired successful ad executive Edward Gelsthorpe to develop a long-term marketing campaign.

Gelsthorpe was a New York Marketing Madmen of his day (think Don Draper without the drama, but then again who knows) who was known for his marketing achievements for companies such as Bristol-Myer.  In 1955, Gelsthorpe purchased an inventor’s idea of a roll-on deodorant (applied like a ballpoint pen) and turned it into Ban, which became the company’s most successful toiletry product. 

His solution for Ocean Spray was to promote juice drinks under the brand name. From 1963 to 1968, Ocean Spray competed against the large soft drink and orange juice markets. The company enjoyed huge success in promoting the Cran-Apple juice, and Gelsthorpe became known as “Cran-Apple Ed.” By the 1970s, Ocean Spray was on its way to becoming a Fortune 500 company.

If you’ve ever been a fan of juices packaged in boxes, you’ll be interested to know that in 1981 Ocean Spray made packaging history with the innovative creation and introduction of this item for their juices in individual servings. 


During the 1980s, Ocean Spray was charged under the Clean Water Act for dumping insufficiently treated chemicals from its Middleboro plant. They paid the fine and also donated water treatment equipment to the town. Ocean Spray went on to become an industry leader in promoting environmentally-sound operations, spending more than $26 million in upgrading their waste-treatment facilities.

The cooperative then continued to innovate and merge in joint ventures with relevant companies to produce new products. In 1995, the company launched the hugely successful Craisins, which became the fastest-growing product in the dried fruit market. In 1996, they introduced Post Cranberry Almond Crunch (my favorite).


Ocean Spray provides a robust and photo-rich history of their cooperative on their website, explaining the growth of the company and sharing pictures of the farm families that still comprise the collective. We learn that many of these farmers are 5th-generation with Ocean Spray. Each farm family shares a brief and charming description of their farm experience with photos of their children and grandchildren.

I particularly liked the content which offers information about the cranberry plant, including cultivation of cranberries and other factoids. Who doesn’t love a bit of information they can dazzle others with at parties and trivia contests?

For example, the cranberry has a small pocket of air inside, which is why it floats! 

More than ever these days, as consumers we are bombarded by marketing in every direction. We often make choices about our preferences early on and then stick with them over time. These products become intertwined in our stories.  

When companies harness their history by detailing the dynamic individuals who shaped them and the challenges and successes along the way, consumers feel validated by knowing their loyalty is well-placed.

What’s your most nostalgic product loyalty?