Ocean Spray sues over negative 'Choice' campaign

by Jeff Gelski
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BOSTON — Ocean Spray Cranberries, Inc. on Aug. 2 filed a lawsuit over what the company called an “unlawful and malicious campaign” against its practices and products, including a www.scamberry.org web site that criticizes the company’s “Choice” sweetened dried cranberry (S.D.C.). Defendants include Decas Cranberry Products, Inc., Carver, Mass. In the lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court of Massachusetts in Boston, Ocean Spray Cranberries, Lakeville-Middleboro, Mass., seeks to recover reasonable costs and attorney fees in an amount to be determined at trial.

“This campaign falsely accuses Ocean Spray of harming the cranberry industry that Ocean Spray has been an integral part of for more than 80 years,” Ocean Spray said in the lawsuit. “The campaign is designed to damage Ocean Spray’s reputation, to frustrate Ocean Spray’s relationships with its customers and to undermine Ocean Spray’s dealings with its grower-owners and with other cranberry growers across the industry.”

According to the lawsuit, Decas Cranberry Products, Inc. launched the campaign in 2009 and has used letters, e-mails, Internet blogs and web sites, Facebook accounts, YouTube videos and Twitter postings.

Besides Decas, other defendants include independent cranberry growers and handlers who met with cranberry growers in Massachusetts, Oregon and Wisconsin and falsely claimed Ocean Spray is violating the law, including federal antitrust laws, according to the lawsuit. Decas also has sent letters to cranberry growers falsely accusing Ocean Spray of contributing to an alleged surplus of cranberries by reformulating products with less cranberry content, according to the lawsuit.

“Decas Cranberry intended to confuse and deceive cranberry growers, customers and consumers into believing that Ocean Spray is harming the industry by causing oversupply, reducing utilization and depressing prices when in fact it is not,” Ocean Spray said in the lawsuit.

Chuck Dillon, president and chief executive officer of Decas Cranberry Products, responded to the lawsuit on Aug. 5, “Ocean Spray should address with their consumers why they are selling a dried cranberry product that has little or no cranberry juice instead of hiding behind this tale of Decas deception. According to their own statements, Ocean Spray uses 50% less cranberries to make Choice than they use to make their regular sweetened dried cranberries.”

Ocean Spray introduced Choice in March of 2009 as a lower cost alternative to its other sweetened dried cranberries. According to the lawsuit, the Choice product is made from Grade A superior frozen whole cranberries that are sliced and sent through a patented process, which includes infusion of sugar, citric acid and elderberry juice to infuse flavor and color. According to the lawsuit, any favorable return that Ocean Spray generates from the sale of Choice is paid to its grower-owners as patronage dividends.

Decas Cranberry Products on July 22 launched a www.scamberry.org web site that gives its views that the Choice product is mislabeled. According to Decas Cranberry Products, Ocean Spray lists cranberry as the first ingredient for Choice when sugar should be listed first.

The National Consumers League, Washington, commissioned laboratory analyses by Krueger Food Laboratories that found Choice “is really little more than cranberry skin infused with sugar syrup.” The National Consumers League said the Choice product was misbranded and should not use sweetened dried cranberries in its name because of its small cranberry content.

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