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Company promotes positive properties of cranberries

The second floor office of Fruit Essentials, Inc. doesn't look like the headquarters of a company on the verge of explosive growth.

Boxes clutter the small main room. A few samples of the company's products are displayed on a simple book shelf. There are apologies about the mess.

But business owner Allen Luke becomes animated when he begins to talk about his product line.

He claims the company is on the cutting edge of the expanding nutritional supplement industry and a bright future is just around the bend.

Fruit Essentials, previous known as Synergetic Marketing and Distribution, has been marketing cranberry snacks, nutraceutical supplements and cranberry-based dog treats regionally for several years.

Although the company cannot make specific claims about potential health benefits of the food and pills, Luke isn't shy about pointing to recent research which shows great promise.

Luke claims the company is now poised to go national, or even international, to provide products that will help people and pets.

"We're onto something," Luke said from his office overlooking Knowles Avenue in downtown New Richmond. "When consumers can understand what we're offering, they see it's a good thing and it makes sense. This is what nature intended for us to have in our bodies."

The biggest challenge is telling people about the company and how their products differ from the run-of-the-mill cranberries found in grocery stores, Luke admitted.

The company is focusing its initial marketing push on health-conscious consumers, who know the "functional food" lingo found in today's health food stores.

"It's a rapidly expanding market," he said. "People want something that's a little bit better, and they don't mind paying extra for it."

Many of the Fruit Essential products are created from cranberry seeds, which once were a discarded part of cranberry production in Wisconsin.

If left untouched, cranberry seeds have little nutritional value.

Industry research, however, discovered that by processing the seeds, impressive levels of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are produced. A high-nutrient oil is produced from the processed seeds, along with a protein powder byproduct that is used for the pet treats.

"When it's processed, it's able to be used by your body," he explained. "It's really a unique extract. It's fun stuff."

Luke said cranberry seeds are relatively easy to come by in Wisconsin, but huge quantities are needed to create enough oil for use by the company.

"You need a truckload of cranberries to get five gallons of oil," Luke said.

The fruit also packs a punch when it comes to antioxidants and phytochemicals, Luke said.

Fish and flaxseed are two common sources of omega-3, Luke said, but many people do not enjoy the tastes associated with those foods. He said the cranberry product is loaded with the essential fatty acids, and they taste good.

An Amery High School graduate, Luke said he moved to central Wisconsin several years ago to learn more about the emerging science of cranberries.

Luke, who has training in marketing, said he originally intended to help cranberry manufacturers better promote their products to health-conscious consumers. He set up websites and spread consumer awareness about the health benefits of the small, red berry.

What he eventually discovered, however, was a market niche that wasn't being filled.

"I found an opportunity to brand a line of products," he said.

Luke eventually set out on his own to create a business that sells to health food stores, restaurants and wholesalers nationwide.

Last week was a watershed moment when he met with officials from Whole Foods Market, one of the nation's major distributors of health and organic foods.

Fruit Essentials has seven different products today, with four new items ready for unveiling in the near future.

Some of the products, including Fruit Essentials' popular "Omega Bits", are already on the shelves of Nature's Pantry and Super America in New Richmond.

"People can start getting it when they see this product," Luke said as he held up a bag of Omega Bits. "They can see what the real benefits are."

Fruit Essentials products have been produced on a small scale so far, as the manufacturers gear up for bigger quantities.

"We're ready to bring it to market," he said, with a hint of intrepidation in his voice. "It's taken about two years to get our production in line and ready to go. The tides are about ready to shift."

As they prepare to expand into the marketplace, Fruit Essentials is already looking to future products using blueberries, raspberries and other functional foods.

"We've got some different products that the market really hasn't seen before," Luke said. "This is fresh technology, and we're really pioneering the way."