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Ryan Black is the co-founder and CEO of Sambazon (Sustainable Management of the Brazilian Amazon), a manufacturer of organic açaí berry and Amazon superfood-based consumer and industrial products. Black created the company with his friend, Ed “Skanda” Nichols, and brother, Jeremy Black, following a surf trip to Brazil in 1999 where they experienced their first açaí bowls and subsequently introduced açaí to the U.S. market.
Early Life and Football Career
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Growing up in Newport Beach, Ryan and his older brother, Jeremy, were active in various sports. In 1984, the two boys and their mother moved to Scottsdale, AZ to be closer to their grandparents. In Arizona, the boys pursued skateboarding and football, while attending Horizon High School where Ryan focused his extra-curricular activities on football, knowing that without the necessary financial resources, it might be a way to attend college.
Although Ryan excelled in football and had a successful high school career, no Division I scholarships were offered following his senior season, so he sold his car and took out student loans to pay for out of state tuition and joined the nationally ranked University of Colorado Buffaloes football team in 1993 – he soon thereafter earned a full scholarship, despite suffering a broken leg in the first week of school. Ryan eventually earned a spot as Buffaloes starting Strong Safety and broke the school record for tackles in 1996, leading all Division I NCAA players. He earned his undergraduate degree from the Sloan Business Schoo l with an emphasis in Finance.
Ryan signed as an unrestricted free agent with the Minnesota Vikings in 1998, and was released in pre-season. Ryan then signed a contract to play in the European Football League, where he played two seasons in 1999 and 2000 in Milan, Italy and Paris, France.
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In 2000, Ryan co-founded Sambazon with childhood friend, Ed “Skanda” Nichols, and older brother, Jeremy Black. Sambazon is a privately held American global food and beverage company based in San Clemente, CA. Sambazon is credited as the first to introduce the Amazon Superfood, açaí (ah-sigh-ee), to the North American and European markets. The name, Sambazon, is an acronym for “Sustainable Management of the Brazilian Amazon,” as the açaí fruit is a food staple and source of income for over a million people in the Amazon’s Varzea, the flooded forest basin of northern Brazil. Sambazon’s business model is vertically integrated to source its primary raw material, açaí, directly from forest communities and to participate in the health and sustainability of these communities. In addition to the United Sates, the company has operations in Brazil, Japan and Korea. Guided by the business principles of the “triple bottom line” (social, environmental and economic success), Sambazon pioneered a market-driven conservation business model around marketing açaí to the worldwide marketplace. This model has created positive change in the Amazon Rainforest and beyond by protecting biodiversity, sustainably managing thousands of acres of forest, creating employment opportunities and increasing the socio-economic status of thousands of small family farmers. Additionally, Sambazon has created a new global market for the Amazon berry. The powerful nutritional benefits of açaí have helped enhance the quality of life among millions of people who now enjoy it on every continent. Since Sambazon’s founding in 2000, when it introduced açaí as a frozen fruit pulp, the company has expanded rapidly in size and product offerings. Sambazon product line includes açaí and Amazon Superfood based fresh juices, smoothies, energy drinks, sorbet, and frozen superfruit packs. The Company is also the leading industrial supplier of açaí based ingredients to food and beverage manufactures across the globe. In addition, The Company owns and operates two retail açaí bowl locations in Cardiff by the Sea and Newport Beach, CA, and has plans to expand their retail concept both domestically and internationally. Sambazon products are certified USDA Organic, Non-GMO Project Verified, vegan and gluten free. All Sambazon açaí products are also certified Ecocert Fair Trade. From juice bars to natural and organic health food retailers like Whole Foods Markets, the Company grew its presence in supermarkets and specialty grocers (Kroger, Publix and Safeway), to mass market retailers (Walmart and Target), to big-box warehouse clubs (Costco and Sam’s Club). As of 2012, the Company was marketing its branded products in each of the 50 states in the USA, as well as Canada, Mexico, Japan, Korea, Taiwan and Brazil.
Ryan is a former Director of the Organic Center, a Washington D.C. based non-profit group dedicated to supporting science and research in organic foods.
Social Responsibility and Sustainability Work
Ryan is fiercely committed to social justice, environmental protection and personal integrity. He knew that constructing a supply chain for açaí in the middle of the Amazon Rainforest wouldn’t happen overnight, but he saw an incredible opportunity that could generate sustainable jobs for thousands of small family growers and was willing to risk personal finances and years of commitment for a cause he truly believed in. Initially, Sambazon involved prominent Brazilian nonprofits, including the Foundation for Advancement of Science and Education (FASE), the World Wildlife Fund Brazil, the Nature Conservancy and the Federal University of Pará, to help develop a sustainable agroforestry program. Sambazon then sponsored the USDA organic certification of its growers and provided technical assistance, social services, and business courses to them and their families. Sambazon also enlisted Ecocert, a leading European fair trade organization, to develop and implement standards with which to certify açaí fair trade for the first time. In 2005, Sambazon built a world-class açaí fruit processing facility in Macapá on the banks of the Amazon River, which employs over 100 people and enables Sambazon to have an even greater impact in the local community. Through Sambazon, Ryan created the Sustainable Amazon Partnership in 2003, which supports lasting sustainable management of the Brazilian Amazon through various social projects in conjunction with local non-profits including: açaí seed biofuel, co-op jewelry making trades, computer donations to local schools, and many more. In 2010, Ryan supported Sambazon’s nationwide “Warrior Up” media campaign that brought visibility to a dozen hand picked individuals and their non-profit organizations making positive change throughout the world.
Black lives in San Clemente, CA. His passions include organic food, music, traveling and outdoor activities. Black speaks multiple languages, and credits his international football career as the stepping-stone to an international business. Black loves to surf, having once told Inc. Magazine about his favorite hobby, “Surfing helps me get away. It clears my mind. At the end of the day, it's you against the ocean.”
Business Awards and Accolades
Under Black’s leadership, Sambazon was recognized by the Secretary of State in 2006 as a winner of the Award for Corporate Excellence for its work in pioneering the first Fair Trade and Certified Organic açaí supply chain that has in turn helped protect the Amazon Rainforest while creating thousands of sustainable farming jobs. According to U.S. Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, who spoke at the ceremony, “Sambazon was selected for its efforts to promote sustainable development in the Brazilian rainforest while improving the conditions of indigenous people through creative marketing of the açaí fruit.” Sambazon also won the 2006 Socially Responsible Business Award and the Changemaker Innovation award for sustainable agro-forestry from the revered Ashoka Organization, which recognizes market-based strategies that benefit low-income communities. Ryan received a Tastemaker Award from Food & Wine – an annual award which recognizes the top 35 talents in food and wine under the age of 35, was listed as one of the top 40 agriculture stars under the age of 40 by “American Food & Ag Exporter” and was a “readers choice” winner for Fast Company’s “Fast 50” award. Most recently, Black participated in the first Clinton Global Initiative Latin America Meeting in 2013, where he spoke during a working session, “Developing Commodities, Sustaining Communities,” about the social and environmental impact Sambazon has made in the Amazon region through sustainable harvesting of açaí.
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