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Ambrosia Gold: From chance seedling to Gold Standard

By
Kyle Eberth

The Ambrosia story begins as any good story, with humble beginnings, a bit of chance, and a lot of hard work.  “First discovered up in Canada, as a chance seedling, growing wild in the middle of a Jonagold orchard,” says Bob Mast, grower and president of CMI Orchards in Wenatchee, WA, whose team introduced Ambrosia to the U.S. market.  The Simikameen Valley of British Columbia is known for its ranches, orchards, and some notorious gold strikes in the late 19th century.  Fast forward 100-plus years and CMI found its gold vein when the company negotiated exclusive rights to refine a chance seedling into the Gold Standard of Ambrosia Apples. 

 

The truth is, Ambrosia was nearly struck down in its infancy, or so the family joke goes, had grower Wilfrid Mennell, a multi-generational farmer been more diligent in clearing the weeds of their Jonagold rows, the little sprout might not have made it.  The grower took one bite and realized he’d stumbled upon an exceptional apple, aptly named Ambrosia, a reference in Greek mythology as the “food of the gods.”  The bi-colored apple, known for its honey forward sweetness, crisp crunch, and iridescent red-pink hue over a creamy background, Ambrosia truly stands out.  While the direct parentage of the seeding remains unknown, it is most commonly held to belong to the Golden Delicious or Jonagold varietals.  

While Ambrosia steadily grew in Canada throughout the 1990s, it would be the persistence, ingenuity, and determination of the Washington-based CMI ownership group — McDougall & Sons, Columbia Fruit Packers, Double Diamond Fruit, and Highland Fruit Growers — led by Scott McDougall owner of McDougall & Sons, who garnered proprietary rights in mid-2000s to grow and develop Ambrosia’s U.S. market, launching the specialty apple as a consistent top-tier performer.

 

“We were first to grow them here in the US, holding the exclusive growing license and developing the market,” said McDougall.  Having initial rights is one thing, bringing that product to market at a high level is no guarantee. So the McDougall Family set about perfecting their growing and packaging strategies, with the expressed goal of mastering the variety. Partnering with a very small network of specially-selected growers to follow McDougall’s proprietary growing strategies to improve color, harvest timing, and storage guidelines, resulting in a top-performing commodity. 

“Our Ambrosia apples are stand-out stars,” McDougall said. "We know better than anyone else how to keep their sweet honey taste consistent with each apple we harvest.”  This handwork was rewarded, “propelling Ambrosia into the No. 1 position for all branded apple sales within the first decade” and holding the No. 1 position for five years. In short, CMI offers up a “legacy of perfection” with Ambrosia.  McDougall is quick to point out that success wasn’t chance luck but indicative of a spirit of entrepreneurship, hard work, and dedication by his team.  With the tree patent expiring in 2017, opening the variety to other U.S. Growers, the team at CMI introduced a new label, Ambrosia Gold to differentiate itself within the market. 

Established in 2016 the “Gold Standard of Ambrosia Apples,” Rochelle Bohm, brand manager at CMI, emphasized, “this new label celebrates the journey we’ve been on to propel Ambrosia to where it is today, and the decades the McDougall family invested in developing this top-notch apple.”  Through trial and error and a decade of growing experience, CMI has established optimal growing storing conditions, determined the best narrow harvest timing for perfectly balanced starch and sugars and high flavor.  “Ambrosia has become a staple in retail stores and fridge drawers across America. It’s hard to believe that this sweet, honey-like apple came from such humble beginnings.”  While since unseated from its top position, this go-to Ambrosia remains a robust category performer. 

Regarding the future, Bohm said, “we’re closely tracking a number of trends, including the acceleration of e-commerce. This is opening all kinds of doorways to new and innovative marketing tactics we can apply to entice purchases and educate shoppers.”  With the ever-changing landscape of digital media, CMI understands the digital space offers up unique ways to engage a larger audience. “Unlike the physical retail floor, the digital space offers endless opportunities to get information into the hands of the those making purchasing decisions. For Ambrosia Gold, we’re excited about the opportunity this delivers to tell our story and describe the Ambrosia Gold difference.”  Opportunities abound for the team at CMI, with more branded apples entering the market, Bohm confirms competition only drives innovation and the entrepreneurial spirit that put CMI and Ambrosia apples on the map. 

Look for conventional and organic Ambrosia Gold apples year-round, but as Rochelle says, “don’t go grabbing any ordinary Ambrosia, be sure to look for the McDougall’s Gold Standard!”

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