For years, harvests in the three major cranberry-producing countries -the United States, Canada and Chile- have grown, while many consumers have turned away from sugary beverages like cranberry juice. As a result, the global supply of cranberries has outgrown demand, and many Massachusetts cranberry producers are being left with a lot of surplus fruit.
"We're in what I think is a really tough spot right now," said Dom Fernandes, a third-generation cranberry grower in Carver, Mass. His company, Fresh Meadows Farm, is struggling to break even. "I would've loved to have seen this farm stay in our family for another generation, and I'm not optimistic about that.”
In 2008, a Massachusetts grower could expect to fetch around $58.60 per barrel of fruit, according to data from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). By 2018, the price fell to $22.30 — a 62% drop. To make matters worse, the ongoing trade war between Washington and Beijing has put a tight squeeze on international cranberry sales.
As the Trump administration prepares for a new round of trade talks, Chinese tariffs on American cranberries remain in place, adding to the economic pain growers are feeling.
However, the makings of the current cranberry glut were visible as early as 2012. And it was around that time that the industry, in search of new customers, focused its marketing muscle on China. The bet was that the world's most populous country might just be big enough to soak up that excess fruit.