Monday, September 24, 2007

How To Make Millions With Brazilian Berries

Projected 2007 Sales: $15 million to $20 million
Description: Manufacturer of Brazilian açaí berry products

When Ed Nichols and Ryan Black took a surf trip to Brazil, they never expected to end up far from the water's edge and deep in the Amazon. Through the country's surf culture, the friends discovered açaí (pronounced "ah-sigh-ee"), a Brazilian berry popular for its unique flavor and nutritional properties. "We fell in love with it," says Nichols. "We didn't want to leave Brazil without it." So they teamed up with Ryan's brother, Jeremy, to become the United States' first supplier of açaí.

Through extensive research, they learned about the berry's other benefits. "The native people make more money selling açaí than they do selling nonrenewable resources," explains Nichols. "We [realized we] could drive preservation by employing the people to harvest the fruit instead of wood."

The guys founded Sambazon in 2000 and then hit the streets. Getting people to try the exotic berry was a challenge, but once they did, they loved it. Business really picked up after Dr. Nicholas Perricone named açaí the No. 1 "superfood" in his 2004 book, The Perricone Promise. "All of a sudden, the floodgates opened," says Jeremy. "It really helped accelerate the knowledge of what açaí is."

From there, Sambazon expanded its products and distribution and opened the first açaí processing facility in the Amazon. Last year, they won the U.S. Secretary of State Award for Corporate Excellence. "We were recognized not so much for our profits, but for the intangible things we're doing," says Ryan. "It was really cool for the State Department to recognize something that's not just on our balance sheet."

Adds Jeremy, "We've been given this incredible opportunity to make a lot of positive change with this berry"--change they hope includes getting açaí in every supermarket nationwide and expanding internationally.

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