A cleaner future

Sambrailo aims to promote green packaging

WATSONVILLE — Like many agricultural businesses in the Pajaro Valley, Sambrailo Packaging, the Watsonville-based packaging company that has been involved in the agricultural industry for the past 94 years, got its start in apples.

Founder Charles Sambrailo noticed there was a need to improve packaging and handling methods in Watsonville's then fastest-growing crop. An innovator of his time, he introduced the concept of paper liners in wooden boxes that helped to protect the apples during shipment.

Still owned by the fourth generation of the Sambrailo family, the company has attempted to keep up with the times. As the demands for different crops have changed so has Sambrailo's focus. The transition from apples to other produce, notably berries, has provided Sambrailo with both challenges and opportunities.

"We've really had to evolve alongside the farmers," said Marketing Manager Sara Lozano. "It's all about the dialogue between us, them and the consumer."

But the types of crops changing is not the only reason Sambrailo continues to evolve. Since revolutionizing the industry in the late '80s with the introduction of the widely-used plastic clamshell packaging for berries, Sambrailo has once again shifted focus.

Last fall, Sambrailo introduced Ready Cycle, a line of 100 percent recyclable packaging that is now in its first season of use.

According to Lozano, the line has been in the works for the past three years, after the company recognized a growing need and demand.

"Even our products that are mostly recyclable would have labels and other pieces that the consumer would have to remove," she said. "But Ready Cycle takes away that extra step."

A number of farms, including Durst Organic Growers in Esparto, as well as JSM Organics and Live Earth Farms in Watsonville, have already begun using Ready Cycle. Sambrailo has also been business partners with California Certified Organic Farmers for the past two years, and has created a special CCOF branded box to distribute.

"There will always be people playing devil's advocate," Lozano said, "claiming that the higher cost of green isn't worth the change. But there are plenty who know how important it is. And that the more that people embrace something, the more accessible it will become."

Sambrailo hopes the new movement toward more environmentally-sound packaging will become just as big of a deal as the reusable bag revolution. And with so much of the agricultural industry currently looking to go organic, and the widely popular "farm to table" movement gaining speed, things are looking good.

The company is eager for Ready Cycle to catch on and eventually be used on a much larger scale — not just for smaller farms and companies.

"We're just at the beginning," Lozano said. "All we can do now is get the word out. But when the rest of the world is ready to change, we'll be here."