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Pineapple revival

A new, smaller company picks up where Maui Land & Pineapple Co. left off

By Rob Shikina

POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Jan 03, 2010

About 65 workers arrived at dawn yesterday for the first day of work at a new though much smaller pineapple company that will allow fresh pineapple farming and packing to continue on Maui.

Haliimaile Pineapple Co. began operations yesterday on 1,000 acres of leased land with some equipment purchased from Maui Land & Pineapple Co.

All workers were former employees of Maui Pineapple, which shut down last week after 97 years in operation. The company laid off about 285 employees and transferred 130 to partner companies.

Yesterday, workers picked more than 41 tons of pineapples in five hours.

"This morning was a real chicken-skin moment," said Rudy Balala, Haliimaile vice president, who worked at Maui Land & Pineapple for more than 30 years. He began talking with Darren Strand, a former Maui Pineapple operating director, about running their own operation a year ago.

"Our thing is trying to run as lean as possible and have everybody involved in the operations," Balala said. "We want everybody to be cross-trained."

Because volume is much lower than Maui Pineapple’s, the company needs a small crew that can do everything, he said.

Some workers who haven’t picked pineapple for more than 10 years were picking pineapple yesterday, Balala said.

"Everybody wants this company to succeed and they’re really showing it, especially on the first day," he said.

Tomorrow, all employees will go to Kahului to train and pack pineapples.

"There were a lot of smiles, a lot of happy people," said Doug Schenk, a shareholder in the new company. "A lot of people raring to go."

Schenk said the new company has a flatter structure, which will be an advantage with only one layer between field workers and the company president.

"It’s going to make a big difference," he said.

Strand said the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, which represents the employees, has been cooperative and open-minded about the new company.

Strand said the main order of business yesterday was to offer positions to workers.

"We had 67 people show up and accept those positions," he said, adding that morale was high and production better than expected.

Haliimaile has rights to use the Maui Gold label for its whole fruit, and the first batches will hit store shelves tomorrow.

"It’s going to be a seamless transition for people who are looking for Maui Gold in the store," he said.

Employee Ricardo De La Torre, 43, who had been with Maui Pineapple for 19 years, received the job of spray boom operator, a position he’s had for 13 years.

"That was good to be back in my equipment, see everything and feel the same," De La Torre said. "It’s part of my life to be in the plants, be in the fields."

He said he likes the idea of learning other positions in the company "so we know what’s going on" and was happy to be working with pineapples again.

"I believe in this company," said De La Torre, who has an 11-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son. "I know this company can survive if everybody do their job."

About 65 workers arrived at dawn yesterday for the first day of work at a new though much smaller pineapple company that will allow fresh pineapple farming and packing to continue on Maui.

Haliimaile Pineapple Co. began operations yesterday on 1,000 acres of leased land with some equipment purchased from Maui Land & Pineapple Co.

All workers were former employees of Maui Pineapple, which shut down last week after 97 years in operation. The company laid off about 285 employees and transferred 130 to partner companies.

Yesterday, workers picked more than 41 tons of pineapples in five hours.

"This morning was a real chicken-skin moment," said Rudy Balala, Haliimaile vice president, who worked at Maui Land & Pineapple for more than 30 years. He began talking with Darren Strand, a former Maui Pineapple operating director, about running their own operation a year ago.

"Our thing is trying to run as lean as possible and have everybody involved in the operations," Balala said. "We want everybody to be cross-trained."

Because volume is much lower than Maui Pineapple’s, the company needs a small crew that can do everything, he said.

Some workers who haven’t picked pineapple for more than 10 years were picking pineapple yesterday, Balala said.

"Everybody wants this company to succeed and they’re really showing it, especially on the first day," he said.

Tomorrow, all employees will go to Kahului to train and pack pineapples.

"There were a lot of smiles, a lot of happy people," said Doug Schenk, a shareholder in the new company. "A lot of people raring to go."

Schenk said the new company has a flatter structure, which will be an advantage with only one layer between field workers and the company president.

"It’s going to make a big difference," he said.

Strand said the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, which represents the employees, has been cooperative and open-minded about the new company.

Strand said the main order of business yesterday was to offer positions to workers.

"We had 67 people show up and accept those positions," he said, adding that morale was high and production better than expected.

Haliimaile has rights to use the Maui Gold label for its whole fruit, and the first batches will hit store shelves tomorrow.

"It’s going to be a seamless transition for people who are looking for Maui Gold in the store," he said.

Employee Ricardo De La Torre, 43, who had been with Maui Pineapple for 19 years, received the job of spray boom operator, a position he’s had for 13 years.

"That was good to be back in my equipment, see everything and feel the same," De La Torre said. "It’s part of my life to be in the plants, be in the fields."

He said he likes the idea of learning other positions in the company "so we know what’s going on" and was happy to be working with pineapples again.

"I believe in this company," said De La Torre, who has an 11-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son. "I know this company can survive if everybody do their job."

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