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Resolution urges stricter limits on coffee labeling

County Council members praised a resolution Wednesday urging the state Legislature to set tighter limits on using Hawaii location names to sell coffee.

The resolution calls for state legislators to develop laws requiring that coffee blends be at least 51% Hawaii-grown in order to use Hawaii geographic names in their labeling.

Currently, state law allows distributors to use Hawaii names such as Kona or Ka‘u on products that include as little as 10% of coffee from the named region.

Coffee farmers testifying at Wednesday’s council meeting said this dilution of the Hawaii brand is enabling large distributors to push local farmers out of their market share.

Holualoa coffee farmer Bruce Corker said requiring products to be 100% Hawaii-grown to use Hawaii names would be in line with similarly exclusive names around the world, such as Champagne — which must be produced in the Champagne region of France — or Vermont maple syrup. But, he added, 51% is still a long-awaited step in the right direction.

“10% blends take millions of dollars each year from Hawaii family coffee farms, and that money is sent as excess profits to the owners of the … blenders on the mainland,” Corker said. “We need to keep that money here in Hawaii County for Hawaii County coffee farmers and … keep that money circulating in the Hawaii County economy.

“When consumers are misled into believing that ‘Kona’ blends are (genuine) Kona coffee, and they are disappointed by the taste of those blends, our heritage coffees … are permanently damaged,” Corker went on.

In 2019, Corker and about 600 other Kona coffee growers filed a class action lawsuit against major coffee sellers, including Walmart, Amazon, Safeway and others for falsely advertising coffee blends as “Kona” coffee despite not originating in Kona.

Earlier this year, some of the offending sellers offered preliminary settlements totaling more than $13 million.

Coffee farmer Jim Monk said 10% blends “defraud and confuse” customers to the benefit of out-of-state distributors and “smear the name of Hawaii.”

North Kona Councilman Holeka Inaba, who introduced the resolution, said he will reach out to legislators directly to encourage prompt action at the next legislative session, which begins in January.

Inaba’s fellow council members were effusive in their praise of the resolution.

“If agriculture is going to survive, we have to get more of the retail dollar back to the actual producer, whether that be coffee, banana, taro, cattle, it doesn’t matter,” said Kohala Councilman Tim Richards.

The resolution passed unanimously.

Email Michael Brestovansky at
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald

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