Not Made in Hawaii
Mainland and even foreign companies exploit the Hawaii brand to sell their products, and it’s usually perfectly legal
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Hanagami of the Hawaii Food Industry Association would like to see more local retailers and manufacturers work together to push the sale of local products.
“We have a real opportunity to carve out a niche for ourselves and sell quality and authenticity,” he says.
For true local manufacturers, the competition from fake Hawaii products is a challenge, “but there is a silver lining,” Chan says.
“The way I see it, if these products are promoting Hawaii and have a big reach on the mainland and internationally, that could be good for us small guys because it’s helping our state and the brand get more exposure,” he says.
Hawaii’s robust tourism industry means there is a built-in market for local manufacturers. In July, the average visitor spent $177 per day while in Hawaii.
“Our average annual visitor market is more than seven times our population,” Hanagami says. “People pay thousands of dollars to come here and Hawaii continues to be one of the top repeat-tourist destinations in the world. When it comes to providing the highest quality, freshest products, our local manufacturers can’t be beat. I don’t care who’s on the other side.”
Since 2009, the number of Agriculture Department inspectors responsible for enforcing state labeling laws on products sold in Hawaii has been slashed from six to three. “And six was already a reduction from previous years,” says Jeri Kahana, manager for the department’s Quality Assurance Division Commodities Branch. “People were laid off and those positions were never restored, so we’re pretty crippled right now.”
These same inspectors also monitor all commercial devices in the state involving a measuring apparatus, she says, such as gas pumps, scales and taxi meters.
“When you have to prioritize responsibilities, which is more important: making sure those devices across the state are accurate or looking at labeling on a bag of chips?” Kahana says. “Ideally, the state should be able to identify all of the unscrupulous companies that like to exploit Hawaii with their coconut-tree packaging and terminology on their labeling that make it seem like their product is Hawaiian, when it’s really not, but that has been a challenge due to lack of resources.”
The federal Fair Packaging and Labeling Act requires a label to include the identity of the product, the name and place of business of the manufacturer, packer or distributor, and the net quantity and contents. If the state discovers a product is improperly labeled, the Department of Agriculture can fine the company up to $2,000 per day for violating state laws and has the authority to temporarily halt sales until it’s proven that the label is accurate. However, the state does not have jurisdiction over products sold outside of Hawaii.
“If a company was mislabeling a product in another state, it would be up to that state, or it could even become a federal issue, to investigate and take action,” Kahana says. In Hawaii, she adds, “We give (companies) the opportunity to fix it and if they don’t, we have the ability to pull the product off the shelf for good and issue them a fine that’s pursuant to the violation.”
Stamp of Approval
With so many products on the market claiming to be “Made in Hawaii” or “Hawaiian-style,” how can you spot the phonies? “It’s simple – check the label,” says Kahana. “Most companies that are legitimately manufacturing goods in Hawaii are proud of that fact and will mention it on the front of their packaging.”
The state Agriculture Department launched the Seals of Quality program in 2006 to protect the integrity and value of products manufactured in Hawaii. Items that use the seal have been reviewed by the state and are genuine Hawaii-grown or Hawaii-made products. The department says only the best agricultural products in the state can bear the seal after meeting specific quality standards. “This is one way to give local manufacturers a competitive edge,” Kahana says.
Kauai and Hawaii Island also have their own marketing programs to promote products made on their respective islands. The goal of the Kauai Made program and the Big Island’s Mountain Apple Brand is to stimulate local industry and ensure the money spent stays on-island.
In August, more than 400 of the state’s local vendors participated in the annual Made in Hawaii Festival in Honolulu, which drew more than 35,000 attendees.
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