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The Landscape of Change

The Landscape of Change

I’ve been reflecting on legacy quite a bit lately, as the window through which I see our industry widens. How we look to the past as a guidebook to direct our future, and how we look to the future through the lens of history and hope—all in the name of creating something to last beyond us.

For 100 years, Sambrailo Packaging has considered legacy a gift. Reflecting on the past century, I am joined by key members of the team who share with me how history, innovation, and collaboration have created an operation that will surely see 100 more years.

Mark Sambrailo, President and Chief Executive Officer, is first introduced to me as the man who can make his team’s visions come to life. He’s the one who knows the family history like the back of his hand, and the one who understands the importance of that history in determining the future of the company.

Mark tells me how, after the Sambrailo family immigrated to the United States from Croatia in 1887, they landed in Angels Camp, California, to follow the Gold Rush. Peter Sambrailo, family patriarch and father to Charles, William, and Jake, gave up his mining operation and settled in Watsonville, California.

“Charles Sambrailo founded the company in 1923,” Mark begins. “He started Sambrailo Packaging at the age of 22 to provide wooden apple and berry crates with paper liners to the farmers who lived in Watsonville. The paper liners gave the company its first name: Chas. P Sambrailo Paper Company.”

As agriculture and farming in California’s Pajaro Valley evolved, so too did Sambrailo.

“That history shaped us. We adapted to the crops coming in and out of the valley; everything from apples to row crop vegetables, and floral to berries. With each change in the valley, our packaging services and products expanded,” Mark adds.

The landscape of change is beautiful to me, as crops ebb and flow, creating demands and waiting for people to rise to the occasion to fill them. After the Pajaro Valley saw a major shift from growing mostly apples in the ’20s through the ’50s, the berry industry blossomed in the ’60s.

“Our team at Sambrailo adapted to create services and products catering to each of the segments in the industry, creating wood crates for apples and berries, then transitioning to corrugated boxes and creating the first berry clamshell in 1987. Throughout the ’90s, it was all about figuring out which items would be best for plastic clamshells and creating whole integrated packaging systems (clamshells, trays, and labels) for retail customers and transportation,” Mark explains. “The challenges are constant, but they are opportunities for us to adapt and keep maintaining our services for our customers.”

With 100 years at its back, Sambrailo is not lacking in experience. Nor is it lacking in heart, as Erik Sambrailo, Project Manager, is quick to point out to me. Erik is the dreamer, the one who puts those lofty visions on the table for Mark to help bring to life. It’s a good partnership, to say the least.

“Our team at Sambrailo [Packaging] adapted to create services and products catering to each of the segments in the industry, creating wood crates for apples and berries, then transitioning to corrugated boxes and creating the first berry clamshell in 1987.”

Mark Sambrailo, President and Chief Executive Officer, Sambrailo Packaging

“I’m excited about the progress of our sustainable packaging line, ReadyCycle®, and how the industry and retail sectors are embracing the shift toward non-plastic, compostable alternatives,” Erik remarks. “We are motivated to continue leading the charge with our innovative solution and stand by our customers who have been at the forefront of driving this industry change, including JSM Organics, A&A Organic Farms, Coke Farm, Live Earth Organic Farm, Viva Tierra, Lipman Family Farms®, and many more.”

Sambrailo’s customer partnerships are more than just a typical supply-side partnership. As Kiersten Sambrailo Clontz, Account Executive, tells me, it’s an element of the company that it can’t live without.

“Service, that is what we truly sell,” she emphasizes. “Our company has always been centered around the service we can provide and cater to our customers’ operations. For example, we’ve been doing business with Driscoll’s for over 60 years and have been through every packaging change and challenge right beside them. Our service is our constant. The team who provides our customers with service is constantly working. We always strive to be there for them throughout their operational needs and changes to their business.”

Given that the company began as a family affair, this culture has permeated throughout its operations. Team members are essential to the success of Sambrailo, and they never forget it.

“Our team is the heart and soul of Sambrailo Packaging. Their dedication, creativity, and hard work have been the driving force behind this company’s continued success,” Erik affirms. “We are fortunate to have team members who have been with us for decades, some for as long as 54 years, and they have truly become part of our family. We strive to foster a sense of belonging and unity for everyone in our company. Words cannot adequately express our gratitude for those who have dedicated themselves to this company and built their lives here. It’s an unparalleled source of pride for us. We are immensely grateful for their contributions and remain committed to nurturing this culture.”

So much of legacy is about building the now—an important distinction I believe Sambrailo works very hard to achieve. It’s not all about building for the future, but creating a current moment that builds an enduring love for the business to be reflected in future generations.

As Mark, Erik, and Kiersten look ahead to those future generations and what the next 100 years will bring, I have to ask what the ultimate accomplishment would be for Sambrailo.

“The ultimate accomplishment would be for us to keep doing what we’re doing,” Mark says. “If we can continue providing service to our customers, caring for our team and family, and making our mark on the packaging and produce industry by innovating new solutions, that would be pretty amazing. After all, it’s what we’ve done for the past 100 years.”

Legacy goes beyond what we leave behind. It’s a living reminder of who we are and where we hope to go. For Sambrailo, it’s a heady blend of what I spoke of at the beginning: history, service, and a team that believes.


Emmett Linder,

Director of Mission Engagement, Driscoll’s

“I have worked closely with Sambrailo Packaging for most of my 40 years with Driscoll’s. Together, we produced the first branded, plastic-mesh pint strawberry baskets used in the berry industry. Sambrailo developed the first hand-folded strawberry plant boxes, eliminating the use of staples, which drove efficiency and safety. The company was instrumental in the development of clamshell packaging used for berries in both baskets and cartons. Clamshells revolutionized the berry industry in harvesting, cooling, shipping, and merchandising. Sambrailo has always been ready and able to provide creative solutions for Driscoll’s, as well as the entire berry industry. They are excellent partners and industry leaders.”

Olivier Griss,

Sales Manager, Coke Farm

“Coke Farm has been partnering with Sambrailo Packaging for over 30 years. When the ReadyCycle clamshell option was first presented to us, we were immediately drawn to it. Not only was it aesthetically pleasing, but philosophically, we loved everything it stood for. For those willing to partner with us and put forth the effort on the ReadyCycle program items, it has shown great success and incredible direct consumer feedback. When organic farming first started, it was a small group of people who wanted to make a change and do things a different way to work toward a better future. Through resilience, risk, perseverance and passion, look where organic is today. We truly believe that in time, ReadyCycle and sustainable packaging options will hold the same gold standard. We look forward to the future with Sambrailo as a partner in pushing sustainable packaging options forward. Cheers to 100, Sambrailo!”

Andy Martin,

President, A&A Organic Farms

“We have enjoyed working with Sambrailo Packaging for the last 17 years, because like us, Sambrailo is a family-owned company. We share many of the same values, such as looking for sustainable, environmentally friendly solutions for our produce packaging needs and working toward exceeding our customer’s expectations in every possible way. Sambrailo Packaging is always in a solution-based mode for us and our growers. When the ReadyCycle product was launched in 2017, we were very excited about the product and wanted to start using it right away. We placed our first order and started shipping ReadyCycle in the spring of 2018. Our customers love the packaging and support it. Many of our customers now think of us as ‘the company that has sustainable packaging,’ and we like that.”

Alan Tagami,

Vice President of Sales, Seven Seas - Watsonville

“Right after college, I was fortunate enough to be hired as a Sales Representative by the Sambrailo family; this was my introduction to the produce industry. It was during my time working for Sambrailo Packaging that I learned the core values of the company, which continue to this day. These core values are: maintain an excellent reputation within the produce industry, always be innovative in the packaging realm, and be customer-centric with a focus on exceptional customer service. For these reasons, we at Seven Seas value Sambrailo Packaging as a key supply partner for our strawberry packaging in both California and Mexico.” 

The Landscape of Change