Food Fight – The battle to preserve brand integrity

Recently, the Kona Coffee Farmers Association (KCFA) approached me about helping them with legislative advocacy. The core issue is one of preserving “brand integrity” which is hugely important to all agricultural products grown in Hawaii – so naturally, I said yes.

While conducting my initial due diligence, I’ve discovered that just about anyone can slap a label on a product that implies the product was grown in Hawaii, when in fact it may not contain any Hawaii grown contents whatsoever.

At the local supermarket, I found “Hawaiian Hazelnut Flavor Coffee – 100% Arabica”. In fine print on the back of the package were the words: “Does not contain Hawaiian grown coffee.”

On a nearby shelf was another bag of coffee loudly proclaiming its Kona roots, as a “Kona blend” with only 10% of the coffee in the bag actually being grown in Kona. The label gives no clue as to where the other 90% is from. Still other bags of coffee declared they were “roasted in Hawaii”, but yet contained no coffee actually grown in Hawaii.

On other shelves, I find instant Idaho mashed potatoes and clear labeling indicating the Idaho Potato state-required registered trademark. And in the wine section, I discover that a Napa Valley “blend” must contain at least 85% wine from grapes that were actually grown in Napa Valley.

Idaho protects the brand integrity of its famous potatoes:
“All persons doing business in the state of Idaho are required to disclose the growing area of origin upon all potato containers in accordance with this rule…Private brands or labels of containers that reference an Idaho location or geographical feature, or otherwise attempt to imply directly or indirectly that a container of potatoes contains potatoes grown in Idaho when in fact such is not the case are prohibited…”Idaho Code

California also protects by law the “brand integrity” of their wines:
“To be designated as a “California” wine, 100% of the grapes used in the wine must be grown in that state. To bear a viticultural area designation such as “Napa,” “Sonoma,” or “El Dorado County,” 85% or more of the grapes used must be grown in the designated area.” Avvo Legal Guide

The preservation of brand integrity is essential in order for small farmers to prosper in Hawaii. While local consumption is critical to provide base markets for local farmers, the true gravy for small farmers resides in the sale of high-value niche agricultural products – to visitors and for export.

Brand integrity ensures both consumers and farmers are protected. Maintaining and enhancing the quality of the product and thus the price-point and marketability of that product, are essential to ensuring profitability.

Whether it be Kona coffee, Maui coffee, Ka’u coffee, Kauai coffee or coffee grown in other Hawaii geographical locations, or any number of food and drink items whose marketing is based on locally grown agricultural products – preserving brand integrity is essential.

The Kona Coffee Farmers Association (KCFA) will once again be leading the effort during the 2020 state legislative session to strengthen Hawaii’s coffee labeling laws. It is with great enthusiasm that I offer them my help and assistance as their legislative consultant and yes, their lobbyist.

Our goal is to form a coalition of farmers large and small from all islands and from all coffee growing areas who share the common goal of preserving that hard-earned and well deserved, “geographic brand identity”. We invite all farmers whether you grow coffee, chocolate, vanilla, onions, lavender, papaya, macadamia nuts, pineapple, hemp or any Hawaii agricultural product – to join in our effort as well.

To be successful during the 2020 legislative session means starting now.

There are three things you can do today that will help tremendously.

1) Send an email or make a call to your state legislator (House and Senate) and let them know that brand integrity and the passage of a 51% minimum threshold for coffee blenders are critically important to you. Contact info is at

2) Write a “letter to the editor” supporting the preservation of brand integrity and the 51% minimum threshold for coffee blenders.

3) Pass the word! Contact other farmers AND consumers and ask them to join us in the effort.

If you want to get more involved but not sure how, please email me at

Thank you in advance for your help and support. This is a just cause and winning helps not only our coffee farming friends but is a strong step toward preserving brand integrity for all of Hawaii’s niche and value-added locally grown products.

Note: If you are willing to send in supporting testimony to legislative committees, please send me your email address and you will receive alerts as to when testimony is needed–beginning in January or early February.


About garyhooser

This blog represents my thoughts as an individual person and does not represent the official position of any organization I may be affiliated with. I presently serve as volunteer President of the Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action (H.A.P.A.) I am the former Vice-Chair of the Democratic Party of Hawaii. In another past life, I was an elected member of the Kauai County Council, a Hawaii State Senator, and Majority Leader, and the Director of Environmental Quality Control for the State of Hawaii - in an even earlier incarnation I was an entrepreneur and small business owner. Yes, I am one of the luckiest guys on the planet. Please visit my website AND sign up for my newsletter (unlike any email newsletter you have ever gotten, of that I am sure) - “Come to the edge.” “We can’t. We’re afraid.” “Come to the edge.” “We can’t. We will fall!” “Come to the edge.” And they came. And he pushed them. And they flew. - Christopher Logue (b.1926)
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2 Responses to Food Fight – The battle to preserve brand integrity

  1. Bill South says:

    10% Kona blends are a farce. It is hard to taste 10% of anything. Blends should be required to have a much higher content than 10%. Perhaps 25% would be a better number. On a practical level, if you want to have a Kona blend at home, buy 100% Kona coffee and some other coffee (preferably other Hawaiian coffees) and mix to taste.

  2. Lorn Hoku Douglas says:

    I can’t believe that the legislature has not been more protective. This applies to coffee and other products. There are no restraints to packaging of Mac Nuts. I know much of the nuts with Hawaiian names have 10% or less Hawaiian grown mac nuts… That’s why I buy Hamakua nuts as they are 100% local…

    Personally I prefer Ka’u coffee. Read the package and call the farmer!

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