Packaging has become a necessary evil, for reasons of food safety, convenience, efficiency, value preservation and cosmetic appeal. Local solutions provider Sambrailo Packaging has been an innovator in packaging for the fresh produce industry since 1923, when Charles Sambrailo began developing progressive methods to protect produce and improve product quality. Located in Watsonville, with a reach that extends across the major ag regions of California and Mexico, Sambrailo has become a powerful force in the produce packaging world. Family owned and operated for four generations, they have been innovators and forward thinkers, helping players in the complex agricultural food chain to more efficiently and safely get their products to consumers.
Sambrailo began with apples, building those beautifully painted or labeled wooden produce boxes that have become collectible heirlooms. Adding paper liners to the boxes was just their first step at innovation. From apples, they evolved to row crops, floral and then berries, as the Pajaro Valley developed into a major source of nearly every berry you can name. Along the way, they made balsa wood baskets with wire handles, then paper pulp boxes with saran wrap covers. They developed the first clamshell, rolled out in 1987: it allowed users to see what was inside, was stackable and protected the fruit through the supply chain. Since then, it’s become the industry standard berry package. But single use plastics did not enjoy the life cycle originally anticipated, and are increasingly ending up in landfill: or worse, in our oceans. Only 30 percent of plastics are actually recycled.
Little could Sambrailo have predicted at the time that packaging would become the bête noir of our food chain. Single-use plastics are an enormous threat to the health of the entire planet, with at least 8 million tons ending up in the world’s oceans yearly. We all know the story of the great floating garbage piles and the fact that plastics are being ingested by many forms of marine life, contaminating the food chain. What can we do to help alleviate the endless waste stream that is clogging our environment? Reduce your single use plastic consumption.
Sara Lozano, Marketing Manager for Sambrailo, has been with the company for 8 years in three different roles, including product development. She notes that given the vagaries of recycling that depend on factors both within our direct control as consumers, and those far beyond, Sambrailo needed to develop an alternative to plastic.
“We knew we needed to change the packaging paradigm,” says Lozano. “We wanted to give consumers choice in terms of packaging for their produce. It needed to be more sustainable and it needed to fit better within the national recycling stream. We chose a material that was readily available and that was well established within the national recycle stream. In the development of ReadyCycle®, we chose unwaxed paperboard, with no additional adhesives, no plastic components and no labels. We wanted it to be straightforward for consumers, first and foremost.”
ReadyCycle sustainable packaging is made from paperboard materials comprised of 30 percent post-consumer recycled fiber. It is manufactured with food-grade adhesives, printed with vegetable-based inks and contains no wax. Packaging is 100 percent recyclable and biodegradable.
ReadyCycle quickly became a sustainable option go-to for cherry tomatoes, figs, strawberries and blueberries, and is now in its fourth year in the market. Designed and produced in California, it offers growers and farmers a way to communicate their stories right on the box. “We can fully print on it,” says Lozano. “Instead of being limited to a small label on a clamshell, you can print your story on all surfaces and communicate so much more about your brand and your values.”
Although it costs over twice as much to make ReadyCycle containers as opposed to plastic clamshells, the positive effect on the environment is worth it. Over 80 percent of corrugated cardboard products are typically recycled. “We’re providing an option for retailers and consumers,” Lozano says, noting that currently around 10% of their customers are using ReadyCycle, with many others evaluating a shift. Growers using this packaging include JSM Organics, A&A Organic Farm, Coke Farm, Capay, Live Earth Farm, Maywood Farms, Forbidden Fruit Orchards, Everett Family Farm and Dirty Girl Produce.
Says Lozano, “Essentially every grower who packs smaller bulk items like strawberries, bushberries, tomatoes, figs, peppers, stone fruit, citrus, etc. could convert some or all their packaging over to ReadyCycle.”
Today, you can find produce packaged in ReadyCycle containers at these local grocers: Berkeley Bowl, Bi Rite Market, New Seasons, New Leaf Markets, Erewhon, Good Earth Natural foods, Sacramento CoOp, Briar Patch CoOp, Davis CoOp, Rayley’s / Nob Hill and Whole Foods. Other retailers and wholesalers include Dorothy Lane, Earl’s Organic Produce, Organically Grown Company and PCC Community Markets.
You can also find ReadyCycle at most local Farmers’ Markets, but getting your local grocer to ditch the plastic and carry produce packaged this way might require a bit of lobbying. Says Lozano, “Ask the produce manager to look into it. Let them know that are willing to pay more to help cover the cost of packaging. It’s our consumer choices that ultimately drive change.”
Says President and CEO Mark Sambrailo, “Continuing our family’s legacy in innovative packaging is something of which we are incredibly proud. We have been an integral part of the produce industry for the last 97 years from providing everything from wooden apple boxes, vegetable cartons, and floral boxes, to introducing the first berry clamshell in 1987. ReadyCycle is our next chapter in this journey, and we want to lead the sustainable packaging movement for our industry, while doing what is right for the environment and our communities by offering an alternative to plastics. Our family has been in Watsonville since 1911 and in Castroville in the 1860’s providing support to the Monterey Bay. We, as a family business, must strive to keep our Pajaro Valley and surrounding areas thriving for the next hundred years. ReadyCycle is a great step in continuing that legacy.”
We asked Lozano what we as consumers can do to help reduce waste: “What we can all do is to educate ourselves on what is actually being accepted in recycling streams, what composting services are available if any, for not only organic waste but ‘compostable plastics.’
Being aware of single use plastic consumption and using less or finding alternatives is also important. Along with supporting and purchasing products packed in ReadyCycle at the store and market level to support the growers and retailers making this choice available.”
For more info: sambrailo.com
Laura Ness is a longtime wine journalist, columnist and judge who contributes regularly to Edible Monterey Bay, Spirited, WineOh.Tv, Los Gatos Magazine and Wine Industry Network, and a variety of consumer publications. Her passion is telling stories about the intriguing characters who inhabit the fascinating world of wine and food.