When brothers Jeremy and Ryan Black created the company Sambazon in 2000 they hit the proverbial mother lode. Sambazon makes juices, sorbet and smoothie packs from acai, berries that grow in Brazil’s Amazon forests. Although the company does not disclose sales, in 2008 they were estimated at $25 million. Sambazon’s products are “sold in virtually every health food store, juice bar and convention grocery store in the U.S.,” according to its website. Its products are sold at Whole Foods and supermarket chains such as Safeway and Giant.
Sambazon says its company was founded on sustainability, a claim it can back up. It was the first company to sponsor U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) organic certification for acai, and its supply chain is certified as Fair Trade. It works with Wild Wildlife Foundation (WWF) Brazil and other non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to ensure acai is harvested sustainably. Sambazon also built a factory in Amapa, Brazil that buys acai berries from over 10,000 independent family growers, and employs about 150 people, half in Brazil.
Sambazon was named a winner of the “Secretary of State’s Award for Corporate Excellence” (A.C.E. Award) for a small-medium business in 2006. It was nominated by the U.S. Ambassador to Brazil. Then U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice said Sambazon “is an outstanding example of the positive impact that a small company can make to the economy, the environment and the society of its host country.”
Rice added, “Sambazon was selected for efforts to promote sustainable development in the Brasilian Rainforest, while improving the conditions of indigenous people through creative marketing of the açaí fruit.”
Sambazon launched the Sustainable Amazon Partnership (SAP) as a “public and private collaboration to promote lasting sustainable management of the Brazilian Amazon Rainforest.” Since launched, SAP has:
- Provided an alternative sustainable income source to logging, cattle and monoculture plantations
- Promoted sustainable development through environmental stewardship on ov er 1.9 million acres
- Supported women in local cooperative who make acai seed jewelry
Established and monitored biosocial indicators to determine the impact of the acai trade
- Developed and implemented sustainability programs with local family farmers
Over one million acai seeds a day come out of processed fruit during harvest season. Sambazon uses the seeds as fuel for its Amapa factory and donates seeds to a nearby brick factory. Before Sambazon donated the seeds, the factory “would use virgin wood from the surrounding area to burn as fuel for the kilns,” said factory owner Wagner Alonso Rodrigues. Since using the donated seeds, the amount of rainforest wood burned by the factory has been reduced by almost 90 percent.
“We have reduced our wood purchasing so drastically that now we save $US 250 a day burning seed instead of wood,” said Rodrigues.