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Stuart McDougall, McDougall & Sons/Columbia Marketing International

How did your family get started in the apple industry?

Our great grandfather on the Horan side—our mom’s side of the family—was the one who in the 1890s actually bought the land where our warehouse sits; the first apple trees were planted in 1895. Our dad, Bob, took over the business in the 1940s, and in 1977, my dad, my brother Scott and I started McDougall & Sons. My brother and I represent the fourth generation in the business.

It has to be interesting co-owning the company and working with your brother and other members of the McDougall family. What roles do you and your brother play? Do you ever butt heads? 

Scott is responsible for the growing end of the business—the orchards, varietal development, etc.  I am in charge of the warehouses and working with marketers. My son Bryon oversees the day-to-day production side of things. So, we all have clearly defined roles and are too busy in our own personal aspects of the business for conflicts. Scott’s son Tyler recently joined us and is working with Scott to learn the growing end. We have a great succession in play!

There a two major times we come together to make united decisions—when we’re deciding what type of varieties we’re going to plant and to discuss building needs related to capital expenditures. But, generally, the operations are separate and we trust one another to do our jobs and do them well.

What do you think most people don’t know about apples?

Most people don’t know about the different varieties and taste profiles that are available. If people experimented more, they would discover new tastes, and that would lead to more apple eaters. There’s not a fruit out there that is as readily available with as many different tastes—sweet, tart, and any mix of the two imaginable.

We’ve seen kids who never liked apples try new varieties and fall in love with them.  The number of choices we have is one of the best things about where our industry is now.

Do you have a favorite variety?  Why/why not?

Our favorite is the Ambrosia® apple. We’re a little biased because we have the exclusive marketing and growing license for them, but we sincerely think they’re a special apple, and plenty of our friends have agreed. There are other delicious options coming down the pike, like Envy®, which is marketed by Enza, and the Cosmic Crisp, which is still a long way from being available commercially.

McDougall & Sons and Columbia Marketing International (CMI) are very integrated operations. Tell us what that means and how being both growers/packers and marketers helps your business succeed.

Having both the farm/packing operation and a marketing company gives the whole process, from growing to the customer experience, more continuity and allows for a greater flow of communication.  CMI is an independent company, and we aren’t involved with the daily business of how they sell and market our apples, but our relationship with the people who manage CMI and its employees is really strong.  Having both ends connected makes it more personal on a day-to-day basis.  And, we get more first-hand information and ideas from our customers, which helps with developing new products and deciding where we’re going in the future.

The industry is in some ways the same and in some ways very different from when you, Scott, and your father began the company years ago.  What do you think is the biggest challenge or concern today in the apple industry?

For the last 5-10 years, the labor situation has been difficult. Labor used to be readily available when we were a smaller operation. We do use the guest worker program, and that is working okay in the field, but we are definitely starting to feel the squeeze in the warehouse. There are not enough workers available for the size and scope of our business at this point.  And, we need not just labor, but skilled labor to be available. It’s an ongoing problem in the warehouses for apples, cherries, all of us.

What’s your favorite apple recipe (or simple way to eat apples)?  

We like eating them fresh out of the bins. But, we also have lots of great recipes featuring our Ambrosias, like the Ambrosia Apple Pico de Gallo – delicious for summer!