Fresno County is located smack dab in the middle of California and that county is responsible for almost all of the raisins grown in the U.S. Drive around my “hometown” of Easton, really just a farming community, and you will see vineyards dotting the landscape. Those vineyards represent the county’s cash cow, the raisin industry. In 2004, the raisin industry in California was valued at $616 million. If Ocean Spray, the creator of Craisins (dried cranberries), has anything to say about it, that industry will shrink. Ocean Spray’s website asks consumers to swap their raisins for Craisins, and specifically instructs them to use Craisins “anywhere you use raisins.” That means war for raisin growers, and the raisin growers are fighting back.
Armed with a truckload of knowledge about their product, and a desire to protect their livelihood, raisin growers launched a $1.5 million marketing campaign on March 2. The grower funded, California Raisin Marketing Board, created in 1998, created a website, letskeepitreal.com to educate consumers about the difference between raisins and Craisins. One of the main difference between the two, according to the website, is that raisins are naturally produced (by drying in the sun), and Craisins “go through multiple steps as they are transformed from a cranberry to a Craisin.”
Another main difference between the two, pointed out by the website, is that Craisins have added sugar, while raisins are “naturally sweet.” NuVal ranks raisins an 87 on its nutrition rating scale, out of 100 points, and rates Craisins a 4. As the website points out, “This means Craisins’ nutritional ranking is even lower than some leading brands of potato chips and chocolate chip cookies.”
The campaign also asks consumers to swap raisins for Craisins. Consumers are asked specifically to pledge to “enjoy all-natural, no sugar-added snacks for one week” instead of eating Craisins. Everyone who takes the pledge is eligible to win one of the five prize packs, one of which contains $1,000.
Craisins hold about 13 percent of the dried-fruit market, and raisins 42 percent, according to an article in the Fresno Bee, the local newspaper. The Fresno Bee article mentions that raisin growers “had dismissed Craisins as a minor player in the dried-fruit industry.” Clearly, that was a big mistake, and one that the campaign is seeking to remedy.
“We aren’t going to just sit back and do nothing,” said Larry Blagg, vice president of marketing for California Raisin Marketing Board. “This is a battle.”
I have a suggestion for the California Raisin Marketing Board. Bring back the singing California Raisins, which took the advertising world by storm in the late 1980s. The singing raisins were created in 1986 at the request of the Marketing Board’s previous incarnation, the California Raisin Advisory Board, and launched in 1987. Imagine those raisins singing about the virtues of nature’s candy.
In full disclosure, I the descendant of a long line of raisin growers on my Armenian mother’s side. In fact, my maternal grandfather’s relatives, including my great-grandfather, were among the Armenian raisin growers who settled in Fresno County in the late 1800s and helped make the raisin industry thrive. Considering that grape growing itself developed in the Transcausia area, which Armenia is a part of, in about 6,000 B.C., my roots in the industry truly go back far. I stand unabashedly on the side of the raisin growers, most of whom produce raisins on land that has been in their families for generations.
Photo credit: Flickr user, Creative Tools