If there’s one thing we absolutely love on days that end in y, it’s a big ol’ bowl of Acai. The sweet superfood is the perfect post workout, pre work and everything in between. But we’re not the only ones who’ve fallen in love with this bursting berry either… We recently met with health expert/surfer/yogi Ryan Black, who discovered açaí on a surfing trip in Brazil with his brother Jeremy back in 2000. Since then, the dynamic duo have pioneered the global açaí food trend, taking a virtually unknown product and turning it into the global health phenomonan that it is today. He’s known for founding Sambazon, a fair trade and organic company with profits injected back in to the Brazil communities to support wellness initiatives and over 10,000 farmers working in the Amazon rain forest. Check out his superfood story…
Hi Ryan, thanks for stopping by. Tell us a little bit about you…
Hi guys, I’m Ryan Black, co-founder of Sambazon acai, the world’s only fair trade & organic acai which has just arrived in independent grocery stores, health food stores and cafes around Australia.
What inspired you to start a business selling acai?
Back in 1999, I ventured to Brazil on a surfing trip with my close friend Edmund Nichols, in search of great waves and adventure. We fell in love with the country, the energy of the place was so positive and it really resonated with us. It was in Brazil that we had our first Acai Bowl and we were blown away by its amazing taste and superior health benefits. We knew that this was something that the world would love, and that we could share the super food globally in a way that mattered and added value to everyone involved. When we returned from our trip we started Sambazon acai with my brother Jeremy. We had a vision for using it as a vehicle to promote sustainable development in the Amazon Rainforest and we knew we could engineer a business model to do exactly that. And from that day onward, Sambazon has operated with a Triple Bottom Line philosophy, which measures success economically, socially and environmentally.
Proudest moments so far?
Unlike any other company doing a direct business with the river people population in the Amazon, we go to them and employ Amazonian farmers directly. We take the time, care and initiative to go out to the forest and see the people and make sure they know they are significant to us. The word used to describe this by one of our local partners was “prestigious”. We make the people of the state of Amapa feel proud for the hard and honest work that they do. I remember over 14 years ago when we were working on the skeleton of this supply chain and learning that through a direct relationship, by eliminating middlemen, providing funds directly to these small family farmers and allowing them to plan their harvest and work better we would give them economic freedom, which would enhance their lives. Economic freedom is a big idea… not from charity but by essentially teaching people to fish and work for themselves and feel proud for doing so.
Further, as a direct employer of over 150 people in the state of Amapa, making us the largest non governmental employer, that indirectly we provide income for 20,000-30,000 people, which in a state of 700k that means more than 1 of every 35 people put food on their table in the state because of Sambazon. Because of the success of Sambazon’s program, people are actually returning to the forest from overcrowded urban areas to work. This is the opposite of rural exodus, a social problem prevalent in this region. While in the short run it doesn’t always seem like our product is different, in the long run it is making a huge difference. This is the greatest highlight of our work thus far… and it is growing.
Tell us how you became so passionate about the product and the fair trade in Brazil?
I grew up in Southern California. I was raised by my mother who taught my brother and I that caring for our community and the planet is just as important as caring for own health and happiness. We are all one! I went to university in Boulder, Colorado, the mecca of organic food in the USA. There I learned about social justice and how the natural foods’ entrepreneurs of the 60’s and 70’s used business to create positive socio-economic change. As a former professional football player, who was always concerned with my health, I’ve had the privilege to put these all together in Sambazon. Healthy product, social justice, sustainable business. It’s a win-win-win!
What is the funniest way you’ve heard açai pronounced?
Ah-sci-Ah… by my stepfather… it’s all pretty funny.
To pronounce it correctly, you say ah-sigh-ee!
Best way to eat it?
Blended, in a bowl topped with hemp seeds, almond butter, cacao nibs, blueberries and a bit of granola. Yum!
Favourite ways to keep active?
I’ve always been a really active person. Growing up I played various traditional sports, skateboarded and surfed. I really enjoyed playing American football and had a successful career in college and pro in the US and in Europe. I still enjoy anything outdoors – especially surfing – and I also really enjoy yoga and pilates. It’s a great way to heal your body.
What imprint would you like to leave on the wellness industry?
I want to create a business of scale which is certified organic and fair trade, maybe even a listed company. I would like to be one example of a business of the future that does well and also does good. All of us are one, we are one tribe of humans. We are beginning to wake up and realize that the collective consciousness is more important than any individual and that as consumers of goods we have the ability to move mountains with our spending power.
“We can vote with our dollars for the kind of future that we desire. Together, nothing is impossible.”
And lastly, before we part, is there an acai recipe you would be able to share with us?
Of course! Check out our Sambazon açai bowl with vanilla bean cashew butter!
Yield: serves 2 Total time: 20 minutes
You will need:
- 2 sachets frozen, unsweetened Sambazon açai puree
- 1/3 cup coconut milk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 bananas, sliced
- 1 cup sliced figs
- 1/2 cup flaked + unsweetened toasted coconut
- 1/3 cup pomegranate arils
- 1/4 cup toasted almonds
For the vanilla bean cashew butter:
- 280g raw, unsalted cashews
- 1 1/2 tablespoons vanilla bean paste
- 1 teaspoon coconut oil, melted
- pinch of salt
Let’s make it:
- In a blender, puree the frozen Sambazon açai puree with the coconut milk, one banana, and vanilla extract.
- If your puree defrosted a bit, you can add in an ice cube or two. Puree until smooth and thick and creamy.
- Serve immediately in two bowls, then cover with sliced banana, figs, coconut, pom arils and almonds. Drizzle generously with cashew butter!
For the vanilla bean cashew butter
- Add cashews to a high powered food processor and blend until smooth, about 6-8 minutes. Periodically scrape down the sides if needed.
- Once smooth and buttery, add in the coconut oil and vanilla bean paste, blending and scraping again until totally smooth. Add in salt and blend again, tasting to see if it needs more.
- Store in a sealed container, preferably in the fridge. I go by the rule though… if I am going to eat it within 3-4 days, I do not refrigerate!