WARRENS—The company that first made dried cranberries now has a footprint in the heart of cranberry country.

Graceland Fruit of Frankfurt, Michigan, announced Monday that it will assume production of dried cranberries and cranberry juice at the CranGrow facility in Warrens.

CranGrow opened the $20 million facility in August 2016 but filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in September 2017. A bankruptcy judge in Eau Claire approved a plan in which CranGrow would lease the processing plant to Graceland and remain in business as a grower-owned cooperative.

“As it worked out, the exit strategy was for us to take over the manufacturing and production of the dried cranberries and juice concentrate,” said Graceland CEO Al DeVore. “GranGrow remains in business. It will be the exclusive supplier of fruit to this plant.”

CranGrow will continue to own the building and operate a cranberry receiving station on the site.

DeVore said he looks forward to working with local growers and described GranGrow as a well-run operation “with a modern production facility.” He said the cooperative was formed just as cranberry prices plunged.

“CranGrow did everything right,” he said. “They couldn’t see the bottom would fall out of the market.”

Graceland opened its first plant in 1973 as a cooperative with eight cherry farms. Since cherries have a very short shelf life unless frozen, the cooperative sought a shelf-stable alternative and developed dried cherries. Since cherries are low in natural sugar, the challenge was to create a shelf-stable product that consumers would want to eat.

The answer was to add sugar as a preservative “by infusing it into the fruit,” DeVore said. It worked for cherries, and Graceland later adapted the technology to cranberries. For 10 years, Graceland was the only manufacturer that produced cranberries in dried form.

DeVore said the technology is basically the same for both cranberries and cherries but added that cranberries are easier to work with.

“The difference is that a cherry is much, much more gentle than the cranberry,” he said. “The cranberry is your ideal fruit for drying. You can be relatively harsh with it and still have a good product. With the cherry, if you treat it the same way, you would have a smoothie.”

All 61 CranGrow employees at the Warrens facility will become Graceland Fruit employees. DeVore said the transaction will increase Graceland’s production capacity by 30 percent, which he said is essential to keep up with the worldwide demand. He said Graceland exports fruit to over 50 countries.

CranGrow CEO Jim Reed said the agreement will be positive for the local cranberry industry. The CranGrow cooperative consists of 30 local cranberry growers, and Reed said they’ve accepted the transaction.

“Our growers were curious, maybe cautious, initially, but they have been all in favor of this once they got to see what this would be,” Reed said.

CranGrow board member Linda Prehn also endorsed the partnership.

“We’re excited to begin this alliance that will greatly benefit both CranGrow and Graceland Fruit,” Prehn said. “Graceland Fruit is a worldwide leader in the production of dried cranberries. By combining our resources with Graceland’s manufacturing expertise and global sales network, we are establishing a solid future for growers, employees and the community.”

Tomah Journal editor Steve Rundio can be reaches at steve.rundio@lee.net.

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Tomah Journal editor

Steve Rundio is editor of the Tomah Journal. Contact him at 608-374-7785.

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