Ocean Spray and other cranberry drink makers are fighting back against possible U.S. Department of Agriculture regulations that would govern the sale of snacks and beverages sold at schools.

New rules on drinks and snacks that can be sold in school outside of meal programs are due next spring. But most assume that the regulations will mirror rules issued by the USDA this year for the National School Lunch and Breakfast program meal rules, which prohibited sugar-added fruit drinks.

Because most cranberry drinks contain sugar to offset the naturally tart flavor of the berries, the cranberry industry has launched a campaign to keep its drinks in schools. If the USDA doesn’t make an exception for cranberry drinks, the industry could be harmed, Ocean Spray CEO Randy Papadellis told USA Today. “We obviously would want to be on the list of things USDA and other agencies buy. Our concern is more the signal a standard that says cranberries are unhealthy sends out to other constituencies. Many people take their cue from USDA in terms of what is healthy.” According to the petition, “While efforts to reduce the consumption of sugar are commendable, the unintended result has been the lumping of cranberry juice with beverages that offer little or no nutritional value.”

Ocean Spray is the driving force behind the campaign, which emphasizes the nutritional value and health benefits of cranberry drinks. It also attempts to distinguish cranberry beverages from others that have added sugar. The campaign includes the “Cranberry Health” Web site, which features scientific studies about the benefits of cranberries and the petition for consumers to sign in support of a cranberry drink exception.

“The Exceptional Cranberry” campaign features videos and branded pages on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. One video features Papadellis and the pair of cranberry farmers found in Ocean Spray ads. Chatting with the farmers – in their typical position standing in a cranberry bog – Papadellis asks for their help in the campaign, noting that “unlike grapes, apples and oranges, cranberries are naturally low in sugar and require some sweetening to be enjoyed.”

At the video’s conclusion, one of the farmers instructs viewers to “learn more and sign our online petition by visiting” the Web site. “Cranberries are an exception fruit, and you can help us make cranberries the exception in added-sugar policy and practice,” he says. To visit the Web site and watch the video, click here.

Why it matters: The cranberry industry is doing everything it can to keep its drinks in schools. In addition to the advertising campaign, the industry formed a 17-member congressional caucus “to provide a platform for the cranberry industry to educate members of Congress and the public about the health benefits of cranberries.” The caucus, which includes federal legislators like Sens. John Kerry and Scott Brown, both from Ocean Spray-based Massachusetts, has already reached out to the USDA. “Given the beneficial and scientifically proven health properties of cranberries, we believe there is a need to establish clear standards that recognize cranberries as a part of a healthy diet,” the caucus wrote in a letter to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack. “We ask that you consider including a variety of cranberry juice and dried cranberry products in USDA's food nutrition program so that children, seniors and adults served by these programs are not denied benefits unique to cranberries.”