28 Oct 2022

Cranberry: all you need to know about the king of US berries


The cranberry is the most widely grown small fruit in the United States. With a centuries-old tradition, it is now part of American life and culture in its own right, becoming an integral part of events, advertising campaigns and recipes, including iconic Thanksgiving Day recipes.



The oldest finds of American cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon) plants are located in the northern part of the American continent. According to theUniversity of Massachusetts, it originally ranged in temperate climate zones from the northeast coast to the north central part of the United States and in the southeast and south central part of the Canadian state.

Place of origin and development of cranberries in the United States.
Place of origin and development of cranberries in the United States.

In fact, it appears that centuries ago the melting of glaciers in the area helped create several hollow areas within which a swampy environment developed that was ideal for the spread and development of the cranberry plant. According to the Cape Cod Cranberry Growers Association (CCCGA), indigenous peoples used to consume and process cranberries according to a variety of needs, starting with food and ending with medicinal and ritual needs.

However, the first cultivation dates back to 1816, when Captain Henry Hall-a war veteran-noticed how cranberry crops gained benefits if sprinkled with sand during the growing season. The notion of this technique soon expanded, greatly expanding the territory used for growing and cultivating the plant. As early as 1871, in fact, the first association was born and, to datethere are more than 40,000 acres (n.d.t. equal to 16,187.426 hectares) cultivated on U.S. soil alone.


Graph of the percentage of cranberries production of different continents.

To date, the spread of cranberry cultivation is located in different parts of the world, starting from the North American states, in Chile, in the southern part of Canada, to Europe, Asia and Africa. However, although crops extend far beyond U.S. soil, the percentage of production detected in European, Asian and African countries reaches small figures, 2.7 percent (Asia), 1.1 percent (Europe), to an approximate 0 percent (Africa), respectively. The almost remaining 96.2% is produced and exported to the market from the United States mainly in the northern part of the continent.

US cranberry-producing states. Photos of US Cranberries.
US cranberry-producing states. Photos of US Cranberries.
Graph of acres of cranberry plantations in the United States.
Graph of acres of cranberry plantations in the United States.

According to US Cranberriesthe state of Wisconsin alone is responsible for 61 percent of U.S. production, followed by Massachusetts with 26 percent. Finally, the remaining 13 percent of production is shared by the remaining states, and collectively they contribute more than 40,000 total acres of growing area over the past decade.

YearArea in production
Data on the acreage of cranberry crops in the US in 2021.

From this spatial extension, a total production in 2021 was found to be more than 6.5 million barrels (one barrel equals 115kg, or more than 770'966 tons) to which 1.8 million barrels purchased from the foreign market should be added (accounting for 22% of domestic production). However, this assessment is lower than in previous years. In fact, in 2016, production amounted to more than 9 million barrels, thus constituting a decline of about 27 percent in five years.

DistrictProduction 2021 (in barrels)
Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut1.586.555
New Jersey570.315
Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota3.901.659
Total production6.704.058
Purchases from abroad1.860.046
% of foreign product22
Cranberry: production in barrels (equivalent to 95.47 liters), 2021 (US).

As for European production, however, most of it is in the eastern part of the continent. Top producers include countries such as Ukraine, Latvia, Romania and Belarus, which, among others, reported by far the largest area of cultivated land in 2013.

Area of development of major cranberry crops in Europe between 2013 and 2017. Source: Food, 2019.


The cranberry plant appears as a creeping plant with stems ranging from 30 to 180 cm that contribute to a dense mat at the growing site. During the development period, the plant has green foliage, with red shades during the dormant period.

Cranberry plant. Photo by CCCGA.
Cranberry plant. Photo by CCCGA.

Because it developed in marshy soils, the cranberry plant has adapted to the conditions of such soils, benefiting from the nutrients and moist conditions of a marshy soil. The presence of water allows the deposition of organic matter, to which sandy layers are added (every 2-5 years) with the aim of promoting and strengthening the plant's productivity. Therefore, the ecosystem surrounding cranberry crops is called bogs (swamps).

Section of soil where the cranberry plant grows.
Section of soil where the cranberry plant grows.

However, as a study from theUniversity of Massachusetts notes, although the characteristics of a boggy soil are functional for the proper development of the plant, during the growing cycle-which runs from May until October of the following year-these conditions are encountered only during the dormancy period-from the fall period until the spring period-and, eventually, during the harvest period-September to late October. In the period of greatest development, in fact, dry soil allows the roots of the plant to stabilize and grow in the most proper way.