A national grocer said it has changed its label on packages of Kona coffee blends, making good on a promise it made last year to a group of Hawaii coffee farmers.
But the Kona Coffee Farmers Association said Thursday that Safeway hasn’t fully honored that promise.
Last year, Safeway agreed to change the label on Kona coffee blend products sold on the mainland to add the phrase “10 percent minimum Kona blend.” That was after the association called for a boycott of the company’s 1,700 stores nationwide because farmers said the labels were misleading and degraded the reputation of Hawaii’s famous coffee.
Safeway doesn’t sell the coffee blend in any of its Hawaii stores, so it wasn’t subject to a Hawaii law that requires labels to reflect the percentage of Hawaii-grown coffee, which needs to be at least 10 percent for the state designation.
Instead, the state Department of Agriculture asked Safeway to voluntarily comply with Hawaii’s law.
The Pleasanton, Calif.-based grocery chain agreed and promised to begin selling 100 percent Kona coffee in some California stores.
The Kona Coffee Farmers Association has been watching Safeway closely for these changes. The association said in a letter to Safeway that members have seen the old packaging in mainland stores and is disappointed the company hasn’t started selling pure Kona coffee.
“Given the product shelf life, packaging used before the (changes) may still exist on store shelves or elsewhere in our distribution chain,” said a letter from Brian Dowling, Safeway vice president of public affairs, adding that the company doesn’t plan to destroy or dispose of those products.
Dowling’s letter said that Safeway hadn’t been able to sell 100 percent Kona coffee, but still planned to do so.
Growing sugarcane and pineapple is hard work, as generations of plantation and farm workers in Hawai’i can attest, but making money at it these days may be even harder. While conditions have improved in modern times for the islands’ fieldworkers, the competition from Third World countries — with different standards of living and labor laws — has also increased.
One of the latest large landowners to cry uncle is Maui Land & Pineapple, which announced Nov. 3 that its pineapple subsidiary — renowned for its "Maui Gold" brand — would cease production at the end of the year. Citing losses of $115 million since 2002, along with $20 million in expenses for a new packing facility, the announcement continued: "The painful decision to close pineapple operations at MPC after 97 years was incredibly difficult to make, but absolutely necessary. We realize this ends a significant chapter in Maui’s history — an important part of many lives, over many generations."
The company’s last harvest took place two days before Christmas, but just before New Year’s, a group of investors came up with a plan to continue operations on about 1,000 acres — a third of the former farm — under the name Haliimaile Pineapple.