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Coffee labeling bill heads to final reading

KAILUA-KONA, Hawai‘i — A bill that would make it a violation of the coffee labeling law to use a Hawaii geographic origin in labeling or advertising for roasted coffee, instant coffee, or ready-to-drink coffee beverage blends that contain less than 51 percent coffee by weight from that geographic origin passed through Conference Committee and is headed for a final reading before being sent to Gov. Josh Green for his signature.

House Bill 2298 originally called for phasing in the percentage of regional coffee to 25 percent by July 1, 50 percent by 2025, 75 percent by 2026 and 100 percent by 2027.

However, in March, House Committee on Consumer Protection and Commerce Chair Rep. Mark Nakashima recommended amending the bill to modify the schedule for the increase in coffee percentages and change responsibility from the retailer to the wholesaler so wholesalers are able to provide 20 percent blend until June 30, 2027, 25 percent blend until 2030 and after 2033 sell only 50 percent blend.

The bill, introduced by Rep. Nicole Lowen, came on the heels of Act 222 in 2022 which required an independent study to assess the economic impact of Hawaii’s coffee labeling laws on local coffee farmers and the industry.

Guild Consulting of Honolulu was awarded the $100,000 contract to conduct the study, and on Jan. 18, the DOA submitted the final report on “Economic Study on Changes in Coffee Labeling Law.”

The report highlighted that increasing the minimum amount of Kona coffee from 10 percent to either 51 percent or 100 percent would be advantageous for local farmers, with a higher increase providing the most benefit.

Additionally, the report anticipated that proposed labeling changes could result in a price increase for Kona coffee while seeing minimal impact on quantities grown or sold.

Once the bill crossed over to the Senate, it was amended back to its original version and advanced into conference. The Conference Committee once again amended the bill. On Tuesday, Nakashima proposed going to 51 percent in two years and at that point perform a market study to see how the percentage increase changes the coffee demand and make a determination on it to continue with the escalating increases.

After discussion, the committee agreed to the final draft of the bill, deleting the timeline that phased in the minimum percentage of coffee by weight from a Hawaii geographic origin to a minimum of 100 percent by July 1, 2027.

The bill will continue the existing statutory minimum of 10 percent of coffee by weight through June 30, 2027, and, beginning July 1, 2027, increasing the minimum percentage to 51 percent of coffee by weight when using a Hawaii geographic origin in labeling or advertising for roasted coffee, instant coffee, or ready-to-drink coffee beverages. The changes, if passed by the full legislature and signed by the governor, would take effect on July 1, 2024.

“This is a huge win,” said Lowen. “Of course 100 percent would be even better, but getting to 51 percent is the first movement there’s been in more than three decades so I think taking a moment to celebrate that is in order.”

Lowen thanked fellow legislators Senators Dru Kanuha and Tim Richards and Representatives Kirstin Kahaloa and Jeanne Kapela for their support of the bill.

“This really was a joint effort,” she said.

Kanuha was also grateful for the bill’s advancement.

“After years of tireless advocacy from local farmers and other stakeholders, I am delighted to have worked towards the passage of HB2298 this week. This legislation marks a significant step in safeguarding the authenticity and prestige of Hawaii-grown coffees, particularly those cultivated in the revered Kona and Ka’u regions,” he said.

“Mandating that coffee blends labeled as ‘Kona’ or from other Hawaiian regions must comprise at least 51 percent locally sourced coffee by weight is a pragmatic policy change that bolsters support for our farmers, boosts tax revenues, and preserves brand integrity. Huge mahalo to the Hawai‘i Island delegation, especially Rep. Lowen, Rep. Kahaloa, and Senator Richards, for their steadfast dedication in ensuring the alignment of the Senate and House on this critical initiative.”

Coffee farmer Bruce Corker said although far less favorable to farmers than the original draft of the bill, the conference committee’s draft is a step in the right direction. However, he has significant concerns with the latest version of the bill.

“After 33 years of having Hawai‘i law permit the use of regional names like Kona on packages containing 90 percent inexpensive foreign-grown coffee, the bill gives blenders 3 more years to market 10 percent blends, to deceive consumers, and to damage the economic interests of Hawai‘i coffee farmers,” he said.

“While other states protect their specialty crop farmers with 100 percent requirements, why is Hawai‘i limiting protection of its coffee farmers to 51 percent? Despite these concerns, if the 51 percent requirement becomes effective on July 1, 2027, Hawai‘i will be making a step in the right direction — with benefits for both consumers and farmers.”
Source: The Garden Island

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