3 ISSUES FOR JUST £3 Subscribe to Devon Life today click here

Discovering Ambrosia

PUBLISHED: 09:30 24 September 2014

A behind the scenes look at the Ambrosia Factory, Lifton. -

A behind the scenes look at the Ambrosia Factory, Lifton. -

© sghaywood photography

CHRISSY HARRIS takes an exclusive behind-the-scenes look around the Devon-based Ambrosia creamery

Ask yourself this deep philosophical question: Ambrosia – rice pudding or custard? It’s not something I’d given much thought to.

But, now, here in the Ambrosia creamery, surrounded by tins and pots and with general manager Steve Pretty looking anxiously on, I suddenly have to make a decision.

And I do it without hesitation. For me, it’s definitely custard.

‘It’s funny,” says Steve. “You do find that people usually associate us with one or the other.”

Ambrosia: a potted (or tinned) history:

1915 – a chance meeting occurred between an English businessman Alfred Morris and an American named James Hatmaker.

Mr Hatmaker was trying to set up his patent machines for drying milk on heated rollers for infant feeding.

Mr Morris said he would try to find somewhere in Britain.

He decided on Lifton after Ernest Miller, the landlord of the Arundell Arms (where Mr Morris used to stay on fishing weekends) agreed to help.

Local farmers agreed to supply 50 gallons of milk to the inn every day.

1917- A site for a 30ft x 20ft building was leased from the Great Western Railway Company and the creamery at Lifton went into production.

The product was called ‘Ambrosia’, meaning ‘food of the gods’.

1936 – First creamed rice produced.

1958 – the current factory was opened at Lifton.

1968 – canned custard produced.

1986 – plastic pots are introduced.

2003 – the site and Ambrosia brand are acquired by Premier Foods

It’s testament to the affection felt for this Devon brand that people from across the generations can say which side of the rice pudding/custard fence they sit on.

“Everybody loves Ambrosia,” says Steve. “It’s just one of those things that people remember from childhood. It’s a real comfort food.”

We must really love it. Ambrosia has recently become a £100 million brand, alongside the likes of Oxo and Bisto.

The factory has stood on its site in Lifton for nearly 100 years. A £20 million expansion is helping increase production of the increasingly popular ‘pot’ format.

Today, Devon Life has been given an exclusive behind-the-scenes look around the creamery where technology has been installed to help satisfy our need for a quick fix of rice pudding or custard in a handy, lunchbox-sized pot.

The Premier Foods-owned brand now makes twinpots (eg custard and crumble), pouring vanilla sauce and has launched mini rice and custard pots. These are exciting times for Ambrosia and the buzz on the factory floor is palpable.

“We have pretty much got the Rolls Royce of machinery in here now,” says process operator Mark Flanders, who I can just about make out in the midst of a mass of shiny tubes and stainless steel.

“I just feel very lucky to be here, in this room, with this new equipment. It makes me feel so proud.”

We (myself and photographer Steve Haywood) are led from one section to the next, each one filled with more space-age-looking technology than the last.

We are surrounded by steam, pots of rice pudding and the sweet smell of a dessert that takes me back to holidays with my granny. It’s enough to make the mind boggle.

“Are you all right, mate?” Steve asks me. “You look a bit, sort of, star struck.”

And I am. It might be the noise, or the smell or the sight of thousands of pots of rice pudding stacked as far as the eye can see but this place is really something.

It’s almost a relief when we wander through to the custard section (I know, I’m biased) where the pace is more relaxed.

They’ve been making custard in tins in the same way for decades, give or take a few new bits of machinery.

It’s the other side of the factory but it seems a world away from the ultra-shiny, futuristic ‘pot production’ side.

“It’s lovely to meet you,” says process operator Lynne Hancock, whose job it is to taste the custard. What a job.

Lynne has to make sure the recipe and the temperature are right by using, among other things, a humble spoon. It’s quite reassuring to know that some things haven’t changed when it comes to pudding production.

“I just have to try it and decide if it’s perfect or not,” says Lynne. “You have to keep your eye on things and I’ve got my trusty recipe book.

“I do love it here. I live nearby and the people are all so nice.”

Does she still like custard though?

“I still like it but I haven’t got that much of it at home, put it that way,” she says.

Lynne gives me a big hug goodbye. She’s right - everyone here is just so nice and seems to share a real sense of honour about working for this much-loved Devon brand.

Kevin George is a prime example. He and his family have clocked up more than 100 years of service to Ambrosia.

His two brothers, sisters-in-law and his partner have all been loyal workers at the site.

“It’s the biggest part of my life,” Kevin explains. “I wouldn’t have all that I have if it wasn’t for Ambrosia. It’s been part of my family for years.”

I hang up my fluorescent jacket and hairnet and head out to see the rolling green hills that surround this factory.

It’s a reminder that Ambrosia’ s appeal rests on the fact that it is a comfort food made in a part of the world people feel so comfortable in.

Devon knows how they make it so creamy – and now I do too.

You can pass the Ambrosia creamery as part of a walk on the Lifton Link trail. For more information, visit ambrosia.co.uk

Facts and figures:

The creamery uses 52,000,000 litres of milk (all from the South West) per year.

It’s enough to fill 21 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

It takes 2,364 tankers to deliver the milk.

Up to 87,576,250 cans are produced each year - enough to stretch from Devon to California.

On an average day, the creamery uses 15 lorry loads of milk, 500,000 cans and 10 tonnes of rice.

The firm employs 285 people.

0 comments

Welcome , please leave your message below.

Optional - JPG files only
Optional - MP3 files only
Optional - 3GP, AVI, MOV, MPG or WMV files
Comments

Please log in to leave a comment and share your views with other Devon Life visitors.

We enable people to post comments with the aim of encouraging open debate.

Only people who register and sign up to our terms and conditions can post comments. These terms and conditions explain our house rules and legal guidelines.

Comments are not edited by Devon Life staff prior to publication but may be automatically filtered.

If you have a complaint about a comment please contact us by clicking on the Report This Comment button next to the comment.

Not a member yet?

Register to create your own unique Devon Life account for free.

Signing up is free, quick and easy and offers you the chance to add comments, personalise the site with local information picked just for you, and more.

Sign up now

More from Food & Drink

Yesterday, 11:24

The inaugural England’s Seafood FEAST will see events happening across the South Devon area known as the English Riviera, which includes Torquay, Cockington, Paignton, Brixham and Babbacombe.

Read more
Tuesday, September 18, 2018

South Hams local MARC COWLING deliberates the increasing fascination with lure fishing for sea bass, and how a passion has become his full-time occupation

Read more
Thursday, September 6, 2018

This salad can be served as a main or a starter. The wild duck, celeriac and game hollandaise are delicious together

Read more
Thursday, September 6, 2018

After an overwhelming response to last month’s competition, Devon Life has teamed up with Food Drink Devon and its members for the second time to create another delectable foodie prize

Read more
Tuesday, September 4, 2018

As the winter begins to close in, there’s nowhere better to take refuge than one of Devon’s many cosy pubs. Here are 9 you should look for when needing to escape the nippy British weather

Read more
Tuesday, August 28, 2018

The owners of a famous Devon ice cream company have launched a new foodie venture, as Catherine Courtenay discovers

Read more
Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Whether you have strawberry or raspberry jam on your scones, or prefer Earl Grey to English breakfast tea, we’ve found 12 of the best tearooms that Devon has to offer

Read more
Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Verity Hesketh is enchanted by Devon’s renowned floating restaurant

Read more
Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Public Houses are a cornerstone of life here in Britain, dating back as far as the Roman invasion in 43 AD. Devon is no different and its humble establishments are steeped in history and nostalgia. We’ve taken a look at 11 of the county’s most historical pubs

Read more
Friday, August 10, 2018

Having two distinctly different and unconnected coastlines, Devon boasts some very fine, and very varied, beach and coastal cafés that really come into their own during the outdoorsy days of summer. Simone Stanbrook-Byrne picks 7 heavenly Devon beach and coastal cafés

Read more
Tuesday, August 7, 2018

With views of the coast, the countryside and our towns and cities, Devon’s eateries are home to some of the best views the county has to offer. Here are 23 places that are a treat for the tongue and the eyes

Read more
Tuesday, July 31, 2018

The Sunday lunch is an enduring British institution that’s incredibly important to get right. We’ve chosen 12 places in Devon that will guarantee sublime stuffing, mouth-watering meats and Yorkshire pudding perfection.

Read more
Tuesday, July 24, 2018

There’s nowhere better to make the most of the glorious summer sun in Devon than in one of our many delightful beer gardens. From north to south, we pick 9 of the best pubs to visit

Read more
Tuesday, July 24, 2018

For most of us, the difficulty of having a cream tea is deciding whether to put the jam or cream on first (cream first, obviously). But for coeliacs and the gluten intolerant, finding a place that caters for your dietary needs can be far harder. To help you out, we’ve picked 8 places for gluten-free cream tea in Devon

Read more

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy


Topics of Interest

Food and Drink Directory

Subscribe or buy a mag today


subscription ad

Local Business Directory

Property Search