About Time You Met: Ryan Black, Co-Founder of SambazonBy Alicia Grimshaw
Ryan Black co-founded Sambazon back in 1999 with his brother, Jeremy Black. Having already become a Cali mainstay on many heath driven menus, and embraced by the wellness community Stateside, Sambazon hit the UK shelves a few years ago and has already been lauded by health fanatics and breakfast lovers. Sambazon Acai is made from the acai berry which is grown in the Amazon and is full of antioxidants, healthy omegas and totally vital nutrients. We chatted to Ryan about doing good for mother nature, the growth of the business and what’s next for most popular acai product on the planet:
You co-founded Sambazon with your brother – how did the idea first come about?
We launched Sambazon in 2001 after visiting Brazil with my brother Jeremy and friend Ed Nichols. We had gone to Brazil on a surfing trip but after discovering the wonder of Açaí, saw an opportunity to bring the delicious and power packed superfood to people around the world.
Growing up as a surfer in Southern California, I was raised to believe that caring for my own health and happiness was just as important as caring for the community and the planet. I fell in love with Brazil’s positive energy, scenery, flavours, people and organic approach to health and vitality and wanted to create Sambazon with a mission to bring Açaí to the world, whilst making a positive impact on the local communities and protecting the biodiversity of the Amazon rainforest.
Açaí has gained massive popularity in the UK recently – why do you think Açaí has become more mainstream?
The Açai bowl is known as a delicious health food staple in the States, Japan, Australia and its home country of Brazil, and we have been on a mission to make it part of the daily diet in the UK too.
Açai has gained such huge popularity because people are demanding more from their food than ever before and Sambazon answers this request! Rather than always grabbing something quick on the go, our customers want food that ticks a number of boxes: health, nutrition, sustainability, taste – and now in the age of social media – aesthetics. People want their food to both do good to the planet, taste delicious and look beautiful too – the Açaí bowl is one of the most Instagrammable foods in the world, with over 3 million tags on Instagram!
At Sambazon, a key driver for our customers is our sustainability credentials. Shoppers on a wellbeing journey are now bound together by their shared attitudes towards bigger issues and initiatives: sustainability, social and environmental causes and ethics, and people love Sambazon Açai because they know we really care about the planet.
Plus, the health benefits of Açai continue to make it appealing. The Açai berry is one of the only fruits on the planet to be naturally sugar free, packed with antioxidants, and full of healthy omegas, fibre and protein. It’s these incredible benefits that have given Açaí an A-list following, making it the must-have superfood for a number of celebrities, including Megan Markle – who is one of our customers and says it’s her favourite breakfast! – The Beckhams, Giselle, Gwyneth Paltrow, Sofía Vergara and Jared Leto.
You’ve teamed up with Ecocert to make sure your product is organic and sustainable – can you tell us a little bit more about the partnership?
Sambazon takes its name from its core goal: the Sustainable Management of the Brazilian Amazon. Since day one, we have aimed for, and wanted to represent, a positive future of global food consumption that makes a positive impact on local communities and protects the biodiversity of the Amazon Rainforest.
As well as being the only certified organic and Fairtrade Açaí brand in the UK, Sambazon is verified by ECOCERT – a four-pillar program that promotes the long-term business commitments of buyers to producers, and makes a commitment to producers that they will receive the full support of our business to flourish.
Our superfoods are a simple and delicious way to have positive impact on the future. Sambazon is the only Açaí company that is purpose-driven and boasts the four pillars of the ECOCERT programme, which are:
Ethical: assuring our Açaí producers that their goods are sold for guaranteed minimum prices.
Social: providing above average working conditions for our farmers and producers, and investing back into communities by building and funding hospital and school construction.
Health and Environmental: respecting the natural resources of the environmental and committing to zero waste throughout the Açaí production process. Any bi-products are used to fuel the factories, be made into bricks to aid with construction, or re-fashioned into jewellery and given to local vendors.
Developmental: creating sustainable partnerships with farmers and producer which will, in turn, encourage them to find sustainable and tangible growth of their own
What simple changes do you think we can make to protect our planet?
‘Voting with your dollar’ is the most impactful way we can make positive change for the future of the planet. This simply means supporting businesses that make a difference and support the planet that we live in, and making a conscious effort to step away from industrial agriculture that kills the planet and causes disease.
Growing awareness of the small things we can all do can also build up to create a massive difference – and getting involved in local charities and fun initiatives is great for growing your own sustainable community and friends. For example, our recent #PurpleForThePlanet movement was a playful idea where we encouraged people to pledge their support for the planet by dying their hair purple. Although it only required small input from our customers, it made a real difference. We were able to protect over 126,270 acres of rainforest and saved 216 species.
How do you actually pronounce acai?
Your product is 100% fair trade – what measures have you made over the years that make sure your product is certified organic and fair trade?
Our process began with cutting out middlemen and going direct to the farmers, working with them and local non-profit organisations to address their real life needs while engaging in business with them. The result was a family type relationship which has now reached over a decade. During this time, they have supplied literally millions of baskets of Açaí berries and we have purchased these berries at Fairtrade prices, but also built ten schools for over 1,500 students, community centers, hospice and day cares and improved literacy, education and public health. From us putting back 5% annually back to the local communities, we can make a real difference.
As well as working with the local communities, we also look at our raw material and see how we can make the production process 100% sustainable. At Sambazon, no single seed is wasted. Açaí berries are 80-90% seed and are either used by local artisans to handcraft jewellery or used as fuel for brick and tile makers therefore further protecting the environment. Recently we also announced that our factories are now fueled entirely from Açaí seeds, the biggest by-product of Açaí production. Winning us an award…
How did you get people to try your product when you were first starting out?
Sharing samples with people and inviting them to try something new has been key to the success of Sambazon! ‘Palm to Palm’ Sambazon Açaí has an exotic purple colour, creamy mouth feel and an earthy taste with notes of chocolate and once tried, everyone just loves it! It’s perfect for pairing with healthy toppings, such as nut butters, fresh fruit and cacao nibs or simply sprinkled with berries, granola or coconut shavings in a nutritious Sambazon bowl.
What challenges have you faced along your entrepreneurial journey?
Despite all the best intentions and pursuit of efficiency, we are all human beings and have our challenges, politics and shortcomings. We started Sambazon with a group of friends and while there are tremendous benefits to working with people you can trust, there are also challenges in doing business with friends and family. Higher education teaches you many things, but the human aspect is something you can’t really plan for.
Additionally, learning comes from mistakes and experience. Since I didn’t personally have any experience in running a business or in the food industry, I had to make a lot of mistakes to learn! Some of them have been painful but that’s what growing is all about.
Sambazon is the market leader in acai-based food and beverage sector – what’s next for you guys?
We always want to lead the way in practicing sustainable business. Supporting all our small family of farmers and the vast Amazon rainforest while operating under the ‘Triple Bottom Line’ philosophy, which measures success in three ways: economically, socially and environmentally.
In terms of new products though, we are introducing an awesome new Açai machine which dispenses a Perfect Açai bowl in 5 seconds. It also has less sugar and calories than anything that comes out of a blender. This machine is working its way into universities, office buildings, health food stores and cafés across the UK and is guaranteed to create the best Açai bowl you ever tried. Get out there and try one!
What do you like to eat with your acai?
I love our coconut mango bowl from one of our Café’s in California – we have two. The combination of Açai topped with granola, banana, coconut, and mangos watching the waves on the beach is just perfection.