In 1981, just as Mark Sambrailo was starting to find his footing at the company his grandfather had founded nearly 60 years earlier, a renovation was taking place, and the original wooden barn the company worked from was being torn down. Instead of saying goodbye to the wood that the family legacy was built on, that raw material was repurposed into the walls that would hold up Sambrailo Packaging’s new company headquarters. Bill Sambrailo, Mark’s father and then President and CEO, would tell the family, “Whenever you get cocky about what you are doing, just look at the walls; remember where you came from, and it will ground you.”
It is these kinds of lessons in humility and a reverence for what has come before that has Sambrailo Packaging uniquely prepared to take on a new mission set by the next generation of the family—Mark Sambrailo as President and CEO, Erik Sambrailo as Project Manager, and Kiersten Sambrailo Clontz as Account Executive. As for the mission at hand, these three third and fourth generation Sambrailos have taken up no small task: creating impactful solutions towards positive change.
“At Sambrailo, the legacy we leave behind is so important to us and is one of our driving forces. We take pride in listening to the customer or employee in order to find the right solutions to challenging situations—whether or not it is packaging related—and I truly believe that this pride comes from our continued generations of helping customers transform their businesses into successful enterprises,” Mark tells me. “We want to be pioneers in sustainable, transparent resources for the produce industry, and it is the generations that have come before us that make achieving this goal possible.”
And Mark is not speaking figuratively when he says Sambrailo has been serving its customers for generations. Based out of Watsonville, California, since the company’s inception, Mark explains to me that Sambrailo Packaging has patrons that have been working with the family for over 75 years. Even some of the employees that have been working with these long-time customers have been with the company for more than three or four decades. And if you’ve spent time in the city of Watsonville, you probably already know that many of these longstanding connections are owed, in part, to the city’s deep, permeating culture of family and community.
“WE WANT TO BE PIONEERS IN SUSTAINABLE, TRANSPARENT RESOURCES FOR THE PRODUCE INDUSTRY, AND IT IS THE GENERATIONS THAT HAVE COME BEFORE US THAT MAKE ACHIEVING THIS GOAL POSSIBLE.”
- Mark Sambrailo, President and CEO, Sambrailo Packaging
Like many would-be residents of Watsonville, Charles Peter Sambrailo was born in the Konavle Valley of Croatia. The Sambrailo family moved to Watsonville in 1911, when Charles was ten, joining the 20 percent of Pajaro Valley residents who immigrated from the Dubrovnik/Konavle area, many of whom chose to grow apples. By 1923, Charles saw an opportunity in this “Apple Rush” and started Chas P. Sambrailo Paper Company.
Seeing the rising need for paper liners in the wooden boxes that housed the thriving local apple and lettuce crops, Charles had the foresight to distribute these paper liners, as well as nail the wood shook boxes together and apply the end labels. The original wood barn that lends itself to Mark’s story of his father was actually an old apple packing shed at the end of Watsonville’s Walker Street, which was lined with many Croatian apple packing operations, making for a convenient and lucrative stroll in which he could sell his packaging to the owners of these businesses.
“The legacy of our family has grown in conjunction with the Watsonville community,” Kiersten explains to me when I ask her what being in the city has meant for her family and the business. “A lot of immigrants came to Watsonville, which included the Sambrailo family, and many got into the apple growing business. Sambrailo was there to help with the packaging needs and to be a support system for adaptation and innovation for their customers. As the industry expanded into different commodities in the area, so did we. We have always been big on family and community, and it all comes back to the roots that were planted here by our ancestors and their strong community ties.”
"We have always been big on family and community, and it all comes back to the roots that were planted here by our ancestors and their strong community ties."
- Kiersten Sambrailo Clontz, Account Executive at Sambrailo Packaging
As he continued to build his reputation and position as a powerhouse in the local produce industry, Charles Sr. and his wife, Henrietta, had two sons: Charles (Chuck) Jr., and William (Bill) King. Bill, who took on leadership of the company when his father passed away in 1963, and his wife, Nancy, had three children: Mark, Judy, and Michael. This brings us to our story today. Mark and his wife Karen have three children: Erik, Kiersten, and Ty. And while Mark has implemented a policy in which his children may not join the company for at least five years after graduation in order to establish careers outside of the family business and produce industry, Kiersten and Erik have already become deeply embedded into the family business while the youngest, Ty, is playing in the NFL.
“I remember always coming to the office as a kid and sitting up in the big conference room with the wood paneling from the original shed,” Erik reminisces when I ask him to share an experience from his early days ‘at the office.’ “Our secretary would set me up with paper and permanent markers, and all my scribbles would end up bleeding through the paper and onto our nice conference table. I just remember we both would be scrambling to try to get the pen marks off.”
Now, as Project Manager, Erik still finds himself scribbling on that table on occasion, but now the topic of his work is more often than not focused on what innovations the company will be putting out next. Most recently, Sambrailo Packaging has introduced its ReadyCycle™ line of products—a sustainability-minded, 100 percent recyclable packaging solution.
“The industry is ripe for change,” Erik says definitively. “We recognize a desire for sustainable options and increased transparency into what is going into our foods, and we are aligning our strategy to support these desires. Innovation has always been a part of our culture throughout the years, and we’re always striving to create a place where individuals can share their experiences, unique perspectives, and ideas to create innovative solutions.”
“The industry is ripe for change. We recognize a desire for sustainable options and increased transparency into what is going into our foods, and we are aligning our strategy to support these desires."
- Erik Sambrailo, Project Manager, Sambrailo Packaging
And if innovative resources for the produce industry are the mission, as Mark and Erik say they are, it’s clear that ReadyCycle fits the bill. ReadyCycle is one of the first packaging options that is truly 100 percent recyclable in existing recycle streams. Because even if your plastic packaging is recyclable, many of the existing options have paper labels applied with regular adhesives or ink that can pollute the recycling stream. Instead, ReadyCycle is manufactured with food-grade adhesives, printed with vegetable based inks, and constructed without wax, making it a packaging option that aligns with the ideals and standards of those that produce, sell, or buy organic produce—a continuously high-demand category. This also makes any of the packages surfaces, inside and out, brandable, with quick print turnarounds making them ideal for seasonal messaging and promotions. The increased marketing real estate also allows for recipes and other nutritional information to be printed right on the pack.
“With ReadyCycle, and with all our projects at Sambrailo Packaging, we want to be remembered as a company of great loyal people who cared about each other, the customers, our community, and the environment,” Mark says.
And this family is no stranger to striving for new heights, literally—Kiersten is the shortest of the Sambrailo family at a staggering six feet tall.
“It means everything,” Kiersten tells me when I ask her exactly what it means for her to work within her family’s living legacy. “I have been very lucky to grow up with an awesome family support system, and it has created an environment where family is very important to me in my adult life and within my career. Every person at Sambrailo Packaging is a part of our ‘family,’ and to be able to work together and strive to continue the legacy is very important and humbling.”
But does it ever get intimidating to know you have almost 100 years of family excellence to live up to?
“No, not really,” Kiersten smiles. “I would say it’s more motivating than anything. I love being emotionally invested for the right reasons, and wanting to do better for the ‘family’ and the community. It just takes a lot of hard work, dedication, and learning.”
Never a family to rest on their laurels, the Sambrailos are continuing to build a legacy off of just that—in Kiersten’s words, “lots and lots of learnin’.”