Thanksgiving Category Design

As you’re setting the cranberry sauce on your Thanksgiving table, consider the category of cranberry-based products. One company comes to mind as the undisputed category leader: Ocean Spray.

Ocean Spray was a deliberate act of category design. In 1930, three cranberry growers found the key to expanding the fruit's success was to build out their category ecosystem. They went on a mission to unite as many cranberry growers as they could into a single cranberry-growing family. After forming a cooperative, Marcus Urann, John Makepeace and Elizabeth Lee then went on to create innovative products ranging from cranberry sauce to cranberry juice and dried cranberries. The co-op now includes over 700 growers from North and South America. Ninety years after creating the category, Ocean Spray accounts for about 80 percent of global raw cranberry purchases.

In the book Play Bigger, co-authored by CDA Partner Kevin Maney, the concept of a category ecosystem is introduced. Winning categories have ecosystems that support the growth of the category. In the 1920s, when Clarence Birdseye invented the category of frozen food, he had to build out an ecosystem to make it work, including train cars with freezers and freezers for grocery stores. Good category designers marshal all the forces they need to make a category come alive.

When we work with clients, we often find that if we’re stuck understanding what the category looks like, we introduce several tools. The category blueprint, even if just sketched on a whiteboard, often helps. We also look at a persona study so that we know who the category is directed at, and a category ecosystem so we know who else will play in that space. These tools can help break through barriers and inform the team about the category dynamics. 

As we celebrate Thanksgiving, we should also celebrate these incredible category designers. 400 million pounds of cranberries are consumed by Americans each year. Twenty percent of that is during the week of Thanksgiving. That’s 80 million pounds!

Happy Thanksgiving from the partners of Category Design Advisors. We’re thankful for all of you who are spreading the category design discipline.