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Not Made in Hawaii

Mainland and even foreign companies exploit the Hawaii brand to sell their products, and it’s usually perfectly legal

(page 1 of 3)

When was the last time you went to a luau and enjoyed deep-fried onion ring chips with your squid luau and lomi salmon?

Never, that’s when.

But Tim’s Cascade Snacks doesn’t care. The Washington-based manufacturer makes a lot of money selling its Hawaiian Luau Barbeque Rings even though there’s nothing Hawaiian about deep-fried onion rings and they’ve probably never been served at a real luau.

Tim’s isn’t alone. Hundreds of other companies worldwide steal the Hawaii brand to leverage their products and some local companies suspect the number of impostors is rising.

All Photos: David Croxford

“We know ‘Luau Barbeque Rings’ doesn’t make sense, but 98 percent of the country doesn’t know,” says Jeff Leichleiter, general manager for Tim’s Cascade Snacks. “The Hawaii image is a powerful brand – and it’s done well for us.”

The state Department of Agriculture says it investigates complaints of products that are falsely labeled “Made in Hawaii,” but it does nothing against the much greater number of products that simply mislead customers with a Hawaiian brand name. There is no official measure of these phonies’ impact on truly local companies and the overall state economy.

“It’s sad, because a lot of these outside companies compete directly with local businesses that are actually manufacturing goods in Hawaii, employing local people and paying taxes here,” says Gary Hanagami, executive director of the Hawaii Food Industry Association. “That’s millions of dollars that could’ve been paid to local companies but aren’t. Big mainland companies can charge a cheaper price because their products cost less to make and are mass distributed all over the world.”

It is illegal to call something “Made in Hawaii” if it is not, but there is nothing illegal about labeling a product “Hawaiian” or “Hawaiian style.” It may be irresponsible and misleading, but it is not illegal.

Leichleiter of Tim’s Cascade uses two different words to describe his company’s approach: “strategic” and “profitable.”

“Everybody wishes they were in Hawaii enjoying the surf, sunny weather and cool tropical breezes and the Hawaii name evokes all those things,” Leichleiter says. “That’s one of the reasons our chips have been so successful.”

Steve Connella, owner of Island Soap and Candle Works on Kauai, says the number of companies borrowing the Hawaii brand has increased over the years.

“Hawaiian anything, especially in the surf market, has the potential to be really popular. Especially in these times when sales might be kind of sluggish, people will do anything to make the sale.”

Leichleiter estimates the company’s Hawaiian brand sells about 9 million 8-ounce bags of chips annually, about 40 percent of the company’s total sales.

In 1996, Tim’s purchased the Hawaiian brand from the Granny Goose chip company, which operated a plant on Maui. Today, the company is based in Algona, Wash., and does not use any ingredients from Hawaii – not even in it’s Hawaiian Sweet Maui Onion Potato Chips.

Under current state law, a product that has at least 51 percent wholesale value added by manufacture, assembly, fabrication or production in the state can be considered made in Hawaii. The formula is simple, Hanagami says: You take the total of your local costs and divide it by your overall costs – imported and local. If your local costs are more than half, then you can claim your product is made in Hawaii.

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Old to new | New to old
Nov 8, 2011 01:31 am
 Posted by  Kona Coffee

The State of Hawaii is knowingly blocking the Geographical Identity Protection the USPTO offers. Many times have farmers and producers pleaded with the State congress members for protection of agricultural products. The strong lobbying efforts of mainland importers (i.e. Paradise Beverages) always ruined these bills to become law.
Enforcement should not be handled by the Dept of Ag: Just forward these numerous reports of violations we farmers file to the State Attorneys office.

Nov 22, 2011 12:11 pm
 Posted by  san

This article is good, but doesn't go far enough. A big issue I have with product labeling here in Hawaii is when items are labeled with a locally identifiable name with the words "distributed" or "packaged" in Hawaii. These words DO NOT mean that the product was grown or produce in Hawaii. examples: Big Island Poultry - that are actually Mainland Fresh; many brand names of Hawaiian Salt; 50th State Poultry, Vegetables bagged in plastic. This kind package is deceptive.

Nov 22, 2011 12:57 pm
 Posted by  san

I had heard that Primo was made on Kauai – so I found this on good ole Wikipedia
In 1999 Pabst acquires the Primo brand and 2007 Pabst decides to bring back the Primo Beer. The Primo Lager sold in state is produced on the island of Kauai at the Keoki Brewing Compnay, which still addes sugar cant to each batch. In May 2007, Keoki was bought by Hawaiian Nui Brewing Company. Portions of the island-based proceeds go to the Outrigger Duke Foundation and toward preserving Hawaiian culture & heritage

Nov 23, 2011 02:35 am
 Posted by  Steve Petranik, HB editor

Hi San:
Wikipedia's info is out of date. Keoki Brewing was only brewing a draft version of Primo, and they have even stopped that. All of the Primo now sold in Hawaii is made in California.

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