Ocean Spray to buy Quebec cranberry processor

Quebec cranberry processor Atoka Cranberries is set to become an arm of the U.S.-based cranberry grower co-op Ocean Spray.

Massachussetts-based Ocean Spray on Friday announced it would buy the Atoka processing plant at Manseau, Que., about 70 km east of Trois-Rivieres, along with the Atoka brand from berry producer Canneberges Bieler.

Financial terms of the deal, which is expected to close “in the coming weeks,” weren’t disclosed Friday.

Ocean Spray, which makes and markets cranberry juices, juice drinks and dried cranberries, also plans to buy Bieler’s freezer and receiving facilities “in the coming year,” and to make “additional capital investments in these facilities to further increase efficiency and improve yield.”

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Bieler is to continue its cranberry-growing operations, Ocean Spray said, and will become a “farmer-owner” in the Ocean Spray co-operative.

Out of its 700-odd members in three countries, the co-op’s Canadian cranberry-growing members are based in Quebec, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. It recently set up a 125-acre co-operative-owned farm at Rogersville, N.B., about 40 km south of Miramichi.

The co-operative’s Canadian holdings also include receiving facilities in British Columbia, at Langley and Richmond.

The co-operative said the deal “will expand Ocean Spray’s manufacturing footprint in Quebec, the second-largest and fastest-growing cranberry farming region in the world.”

On its website, the co-op noted Quebec’s cranberry industry has seen “stunning” expansion, having become the world’s second-biggest cranberry growing region as of 2014, compared to just three growers on 264 acres in 1992.

According to Atoka, Quebec’s production in 2012 represented about 20 per cent of the world’s total cranberry output, behind Wisconsin at about 40 per cent that year.

“Ocean Spray’s brand strength and global marketing reach, coupled with Atoka’s unique product portfolio and location, will benefit all of our farmers and expand the reach of the overall Quebec cranberry industry,” co-op CEO Randy Papadellis said in a release.

The deal for Atoka, he noted, comes “exactly 60 years after Quebec growers first joined the Ocean Spray co-operative in 1958.”

Atoka began building its processing plant in 1988, four years after Bieler began growing cranberries in the Centre-du-Quebec region.

Since then, Atoka said on its website, its processing business expanded into marketing and packaging and its plant has undergone seven more expansion phases, today including five production lines, three freezer units and a laboratory, and employing about 130 people.

Atoka employees will become part of Ocean Spray’s manufacturing network, the co-op said. That network also includes manufacturing plants in Massachusetts, Wisconsin and Washington and at Lanco in southern Chile, plus beverage plants in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Texas and Nevada.

“The employees of Atoka and Ocean Spray share a similar culture of quality and customer focus, as well as a unique dedication to increasing demand for cranberries,” Bieler CEO Marc Bieler said in Ocean Spray’s release. — AGCanada.com Network

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