Wisconsin takes cranberry snacks away from the tax man

By: - November 25, 2021 6:19 am
Dried cranberries

Tomtheman5 | Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 2.5

Are you celebrating Thanksgiving by tossing Craisins in your salad? 

If so, the state Department of Revenue (DOR) and the Wisconsin State Cranberry Growers Association want you to know that, for the first time ever, they’re tax-free.

Until this year, Craisins — or any other brand of sweetened, dried cranberries in addition to those bearing that name trademarked by the cranberry behemoth Ocean Spray — were treated as candy under Wisconsin’s sales tax law. That changed with the enactment of the 2021-23 biennial state budget. 

The law originally defined the dried cranberries — which turn up in trail mix, on salads and in the post-game snacks at kids’ soccer games — as candy because they are sweetened with fruit juice before they’re dried, says Maria Guerra Lapacek, assistant deputy secretary at DOR. Wisconsin imposes a sales tax on candy, so the dried cranberries have been taxed since they were first introduced in 1990.

A year ago, Wisconsin and the cranberry growers persuaded a group that develops sales tax standards to allow states to cross off sweetened, dried fruit from the list of candies for tax purposes. For two decades the Streamlined Sales Tax Board has worked with its 24 participating states to make their sales tax systems simpler and more uniform. 

The board approved a Wisconsin amendment declaring that any member state “may exclude from its definition of ‘candy’ a preparation that has as its predominant ingredient dried or partially dried fruit along with one or more  sweeteners, and which may also contain other additives including but not limited to oils, natural flavorings, fiber, or preservatives.” 

With that change, Wisconsin was free to revise its sales tax law, taking dried cranberries off the candy list, and a provision to do just that was added to the new budget, which Gov. Tony Evers signed in July. 

Of course, it’s not as simple as saying “dried cranberries aren’t candy.” The language that adds to the existing definition of what is and is not candy can be found here.

Marking Tuesday of Thanksgiving Week as National Eat Cranberry Day, DOR secretary Peter Barca and the Wisconsin State Cranberry Growers Association’s executive director, Tom Lochner, sent out a triumphal statement cheering the now-untaxed snack, with Barca boasting that “Wisconsin is the largest and best producer of cranberries in the nation.” 

The association calculates that cranberries juice Wisconsin’s economy by a billion dollars a year while employing thousands of people in the state. Cranberry growers in what some call the Badger State and others call the Dairy State produce more than half of the world’s cranberries; they have been the world’s top producer of the fruit for 27 years — perhaps warranting adding the Cranberry State to Wisconsin’s list of nicknames.

With the dried variety graduating from taxed as candy to tax-free as not-candy, Lochner added, “Now Wisconsinites can purchase and enjoy this nutritious food without the burden of sales tax, just like any other dried fruit.”


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Erik Gunn
Erik Gunn

Deputy Editor Erik Gunn reports and writes on work and the economy, health policy and related subjects, for the Wisconsin Examiner. He spent 24 years as a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine, Isthmus, The Progressive, BNA Inc., and other publications, winning awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, beat coverage, business writing, and commentary. An East Coast native, he previously covered labor for The Milwaukee Journal after reporting for newspapers in upstate New York and northern Illinois. He's a graduate of Beloit College (English Comp.) and the Columbia School of Journalism. Off hours he is the Examiner's resident Springsteen and Jackson Browne fanboy and model railroad nerd.