North Bay Business Journal

Thursday, August 29, 2013, 5:22 pm

World Centric of Palo Alto moving to Petaluma

Maker of biodegradable packaging plans for 15 hires


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    PETALUMA — World Centric, a seller and designer of biodegradable and recyclable food containers and other products, has moved its headquarters from Palo Alto to Petaluma’s Foundry Wharf, according to an announcement from the city of Petaluma and economic development officials.

    World CentricWorld Centric (650-283-3797, worldcentric.org) will occupy a 2,300-square-foot office space in the warehouse district, hiring a total of 15 individuals to boost staff and replace some employees that have not moved with the company, said CEO Aseem Das.

    The reduction in business expenses will allow the company to grow more easily in Petaluma, and open the possibility of moving manufacturing of some products from Asia to the United States.

    “If we wanted to do manufacturing, we’d have to move out of Palo Alto,” said Mr. Das. While he considered sites in the East Bay Area and South San Francisco, “There’s this element of synergy here for what kind of business we are — not only for the business, but also with the general population here.”

    World Centric launched as a nonprofit focused on worldwide environment and quality-of-life issues in 2004, hosting documentaries and community events to foster awareness of human rights, sustainability and other concerns.

    Seeing a crowded space for fundraising to support those causes, the organization began to explore direct-to-consumer sales of fair trade goods and, ultimately, compostable packaging, he said.

    “We wanted a sustainable income stream — a product or service that is good for the planet,” he said. “We were probably one of the first few companies in the U.S. with these kinds of compostable products available directly to the customer via the website.”

    The company restructured amid as a certified B-corporation and as a California Benefit Corporation in 2009 amid surging demand, adopting taxable designations that include elements of nonprofit and for-profit business structures.

    While World Centric still offers products directly to consumers, the majority of its sales are now with distributors serving larger cafeterias, conferences and other dining facilities, Mr. Das said. The company anticipates around $20 million in sales this year.

    Many of the products, including cups and clam shell food packaging,  are manufactured from Ingeo, a plastic substitute designed by Nebraska-based NatureWorks and derived from plants grown in the United States. World Centric owns tooling and proprietary designs for a number of products in its portfolio, with manufacturing largely conducted in Asia.

    The company conducts regular audits of its facilities in Asia and has offset all of its carbon emissions since 2009, but local manufacturing could allow even greater oversight and the ability for faster turnaround.

    “Even though we have a good supply chain in Asia, there is this element that you don’t know exactly what is going on there,” he said.

    The move follows a collaborative recruitment effort involving the Sonoma County Economic Development Board, the city of Petaluma and Sonoma County BEST, reflecting what participants said is a model for a public-private approach to business attraction.

    “There aren’t big budgets around,” said Ingrid Alverde, economic development manager for the city of Petaluma. “We have to leverage each other’s resources to ultimately benefit the taxpayers and the businesses.”

    The company joins organic tea manufacturer Traditional Medicinals, also organized as a B-corporation, at the site. Discussions with CEO Blair Kellison, a member of the BEST board of directors, were among the factors that BEST Executive Director Carolyn Stark said helped to draw the company to Petaluma.

    “We had to show that, here in Sonoma County, we have the kind of people that World Centric is looking for,” said Ms. Stark.

    “Everybody is working together for the greater good of the economy,” said Ben Stone, executive director of the EDB.

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