The Cranberry Can Upside Down Mystery

can ... with label upside down

The label is on upside down ... or maybe, they designed it that way

I thought it strange as I was rummaging around the cupboard of my parents house this weekend when I found one of my family members had purchased an off-brand discounted can of cranberry sauce with its label upside down. The can did not stack well with other cans … because it’s bottom was at the top. I thought, “The label was obviously put on wrong and that is why it is discounted.” Mystery solved.

…but not so fast.

So just tonight, I went to my friendly neighborhood grocery store and what do I find there sitting in the Thanksgiving Preparation Area – lots and lots of cranberry sauce cans that had their tops (where you normally open a can) on their bottoms. It’s an epidemic across multiple manufacturers – cranberry sauce labeling machines have begun playing a ridiculous trick on us consumers!

I took a picture of the can above because it raises an interesting question in design and user experience – WHEN do you design for? The Cranberry Sauce Manufacturer Association (CSMA) has decided that they will put the label on the other way compared to all other cans because now you can read the label as the cranberries slide out of their imprisonment.

But hang on a second … who cares about reading the label? Do I think this as I am pouring out my can of soup … “I wish I could read this label as I fill my bowl!”. WHEN am I designing for – the selling, the storing, the pouring, or the discard. These cans do not store well because they don’t stack nicely with other cans. After the user pours the can out, they will place the can open-side up, which causes the label now to be upside down. Seems like it was not designed with the WHEN of storing and discard in mind.

And if we take a step back, is not anything that a user buys in a can have an inner desire to be removed from said can? My Vegetarian Baked Beans wants to be removed, but you open their can from the top. My Albacore Chunk Light Tuna wants to be removed from it’s watery home, but it’s can opens from the top. Soup, fruit, vegetables, sauce … they all open from the top. Why did the CSMA buck the trend and put their opening on the bottom?

It has to do with the ‘jelly’ aspect.

Most cranberry sauces are jellied in some form – they make that strange gelatin-like cylinder shape. Also, the CSMA wants to make sure your Thanksgiving dinner is exactly like the commercials on TV where they ‘slice’ the log of jellied cranberries. Since all cans get shipped with their labels upright so they can be quickly stocked, the cranberry will naturally settle on the bottom (which in this twisted scenario is the ‘top’). So when you open the ‘top’ of the can (which is the cranberries bottom), the berries’ support structure is gone and they fall out as one large log rather gracefully. If the cranberries had settled the way most cans get packaged, the cranberry log that we know and love would have spoon scrapings all around it – this design actually saves us from dirtying a spoon.

This now makes sense and the Cranberry Can Upside Down Mystery is solved. The WHEN that the CSMA designed for was the ‘using’, which in my humble opinion is the most important WHEN to design for.

… Now I wonder how long did it take the CSMA to realize this when they started canning?

15 responses to “The Cranberry Can Upside Down Mystery

  1. Paula Kiger (Big Green Pen)

    Woo! You just settled a debate (not really a debate – more a mystery) on Facebook. So thanks!

  2. Who buys canned cranberries anyway?

  3. Not just the US Jason… Canada is also now relieved hehehe

  4. I have been looking for the answer to this “mystery” for 4 years. I’ve opened and emptied many cans of both types of sauce – jellied and whole berry – and found that the contents are consistently jelled to a degree which will maintain the sauces’ physical structure no matter how you open the can – top, bottom or middle. The only difference is when opened conventionally the lip end will sit somewhat flatter on its’ end. Now this is a very minor advantage considering that no-one ever serves it in that manner. So while I respect your opinion as being the most reasonable of any answer I’ve yet found, I’m still not convinced it is truly valid. I’ve been told by an informant that can labels in Australia are affixed in the normal manner, but their toilets flush clockwise too so they might not count. Or they just might not care how their cranberry sauce comes out of the can.

  5. Having just opened yet another can of cranberry sauce for no other reason than to try to understand this dilemma, I think I have the real answer. I alone have bought and opened at least 20 cans of cranberry sauce for no other reason than to figure out why this is done. I have 11 more cans in my food pantry. I don’t even like the stuff anymore. It’s MARKETING !!! Somebody came up with this idea years ago to sell more cranberry sauce. I gotta go make more cranberry/jello stuff. Again….

  6. I see you removed my comments. Pretty lame.

    • Thanks Rick for you insight and comments. All comments on this blog have to be validated – and it just took a bit of time to do that. I love comments, even if they disagree with me – because it shows discussion. Thanks Rick again.

  7. Now they’re back on. Never mind. Don’t know how that happened. Might have something to do with being on Safe Mode this time. Old computer is barely working now. Sorry.

  8. Rick makes some valid comments… and frankly, Jason… your suggestions are far too reasonable for a true cranberry-conspiracy… I strongly suspect that both the Illuminati and the Elders of Zion are duplicitously entwined in this challenge to our chicken…

    Cran the Man

    • Good insight Cran. I’m super glad you gave us a bit of your mind-share on this deep subject. After all, “Cranberry Lives Matter”.

      • Hi Jason. I just spent three hours typing on a response to your site. Put in my name and email address and pressed post comment. Got ” Error. Enter valid email address ” and my reply disappeared. Please PLEASE tell me you got it or can retrieve it from wherever it went.

      • Oh no! I just saw this today Rick – and I looked through the logs and comments, and could not find any trace of your three hour response. Major lame sauce! (which is a distant, rude cousin to Cranberry Sauce).

        May I suggest in the future, that before you hit post/submit/enter, that you always Ctrl+C (Edit->Copy) your text in the 1-5% chance that this happens ever again. This is has happened to me too many times – and I make it a habit to do just that. Then you can post it in a Notepad or TextEdit or Browser window … sorry Rick!

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