TikTok star gives Ocean Spray a boost as brand looks to Thanksgiving, and the future

Key Points
  • 90-year-old Ocean Spray got a big brand boost from a TikTok video that went viral energizing interest in the brand worldwide.
  • The cooperative of 700 farmers in North and South America has been 100% verified by the Sustainable Agricultural Initiative for its regenerative farming practices.
  • The company is developing new brands focusing on wellness and nutrition as consumers concerned about Covid-19 take proactive measures to improve their health.
Ocean Spray

Sometimes a twist of fate can change a company's trajectory or provide the rocket fuel it needs to shift to a new paradigm. Just ask Tom Hayes, the new CEO of Ocean Spray, a 90-year-old agricultural cooperative of some 700 small family farmers throughout North and South America. He found out firsthand how social media can elevate a brand worldwide and inject enthusiasm from the most unexpected places.

It happened last month when Nathan Apodaca (a laborer at a potato warehouse in Idaho) decided to film himself cruising to work on his longboard, lip-syncing to Fleetwood Mac's iconic song, "Dreams," all while gulping down a carton of Ocean Spray Cran-Raspberry after his pick-up truck broke down.

"It struck a chord," says Chris Ferzli, Ocean Spray's director of global corporate affairs, of the TikTok video which has now racked up over 69.2 million views and counting.

And TikTokers from across the world have been scooping up bottles of Ocean Spray and hitting the road on everything from skateboards to wakeboards, Heelys and pet strollers, in homage to Apodaca.

Even Mick Fleetwood, Fleetwood Mac's 73-year-old namesake drummer, joined TikTok especially to get on board, and the world lapped it up. Inspired by the video, Ocean Spray's chief exec Tom Hayes hopped on his own skateboard to record his version as well. The company also bought Apodaca a shiny new truck, in what NPR called the "appropriate color of cranberry red."

Viral brand-building

The social media play grew organically, almost like a metaphor for Ocean Spray, a farmer-owned cooperative founded in 1930 in Massachusetts.  And it's helped the company get a bounce in sales and viral buzz.

It's not easy keeping a 90-year-old brand relevant. But for Ocean Spray's CEO, Tom Hayes, it's his mission since joining the company in July. It helps that the company's products are deeply woven in America's most favorite tradition: Thanksgiving.

This year, that family holiday may look different due to the pandemic since travel and social distancing restrictions may alter how Americans gather around their table to celebrate. Despite Covid-19, Ocean Spray expects a surge in demand thanks to an increased consumer focus on home cooking.

According to Hayes, "The company plans to harvest 100 billion cranberries to meet demand for Thanksgiving. That translates into 59.5 million cans of cranberry sauce and other products."

That achievement is noteworthy considering Ocean Spray had to navigate through the pandemic, economic shutdowns and climate change this year.

"Climate change has affected agriculture in some way or another," said Hayes. "Most of these family farms have been in our cooperative for eight generations and they have figured out ways to handle environmental issues over time. Last April, Ocean Spray was the first sustainably grown crop in the world to receive verification from the Sustainable Agricultural Initiative for its 100% regenerative farming practices based on six pillars including water conservation, soil health and carbon sequestration."

Family farmers are part of the Ocean Spray cooperative in North and South America.
Ocean Spray

That has been coupled with the challenges of the pandemic. In response, Ocean Spray fortified existing health and safety measures at its plants and distribution centers. To show its appreciation to its frontline workers during the height of the health crisis, in March through July it implemented an hourly $1.50 wage increase for 1,500 employees at  processing plants.

New products in a new era

Hayes, who joined the company in July, is the former CEO of Tyson Foods, where he earned praise for his innovative thinking and foresight.  As Yahoo Money pointed out, he is wasting no time getting his growth plan into action. He plans to leverage Ocean Spray's massive brand awareness for the development of new product lines, including new beverages, snacks and mini meals, according to Yahoo's report.

Through the organization's Lighthouse Incubator Ocean Spray aims to bring new innovations to market with a five-month period from concept to market. Since the incubator was established last May it has spun out new concepts with a focus on wellness and nutrition. This includes Atoka, a line of herbal tea tonics with ingredients curated by a master herbalist for holistic wellness; Dabbly, cranberry extract-based supplements that support skin health, and Tally-Ho water enhancers for dogs to support immune, oral and emotional health.

At its helm is director Santi Proano, an MBA and former brand innovation officer at Tyson Foods. "Our goal is to develop new products consumers want in overlooked niches in the market," he said. "We do this with what we call 'agile innovation,' a process where we test ideas, reiterate them and get them quickly in the marketplace."

"It all starts with the consumer to find out their unmet needs. Since the pandemic there is a focus on self-care and wellness. Consumers want to be more proactive about taking care of their health, and the health of their pets," Proano said.

At Ocean Spray great ideas emanate internally within the incubator's brain trust many of whom have entrepreneurial backgrounds, as well as from the cooperative's network of farmers and suppliers.

As Hayes sums it up: "The goal is to evolve the traditional portfolio with exciting new brands consumers love and want to interact with."

-- Kerima Greene contributed to this article

CORRECTION: This article has been updated to properly cite its sources.