Hawaiian county officials requested to impose stricter laws regarding the use of Hawaii location in coffee packaging names. The current policy is cutting profits and damaging brands of local Hawaiian coffee farmers.

Last week, a Hawaii County Council resolution was passed unanimously, requiring coffee blends to be made of at least 51% Hawaii-grown coffee to use Hawaiian location names in the labelling. This is a big jump from the current laws which only requires the coffee products to be 10% Hawaiian-made.

Native coffee farmers testified at a council meeting, stating that the current policy is too lenient and affecting their livelihoods. When blends are only made of 10% Hawaiian coffee beans, profits are being taken away from Hawaiian family coffee farms and into the pockets of mainland coffee distributors instead. 

Not only that, when these products promote coffee with Hawaiian locations on labels even though it mostly doesn’t contain Hawaiian-made coffee beans, it affects the flavours thus damaging Hawaiian brands. Big Island coffee farmer Bruce Corker stated:

“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.” 

Another coffee grower Jim Monk said that mainland coffee distributors who use 10% Hawaiian coffee beans in their blends “defraud and confuse” consumers as well as “smear the name of Hawaii”.

According to a Congressional Research Service report, GIs (Geographic Indications) “protect the quality and reputation of a distinctive product originating in a certain region”. Examples include Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and Florida oranges. 

This matter has been going on for a while. In 2019, about 600 Kona coffee farmers, including Corker, filed a class-action lawsuit against major coffee sellers including Amazon and Walmart for advertising coffee blends as “Kona” blends when they didn’t originate from Kona. According to the Tribune-Herald, there have been preliminary settlements of a total of about $13 million offered by some of these companies. 

Taking into consideration of GIs and the effects of current laws, the request for this stricter law in the percentage of Hawaiian-made coffee beans used in blends is a just one. Not only will it benefit Hawaiian farmers but it will also lead to more genuine Hawaiian-made coffee products for consumers to enjoy.

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