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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 2 of 3)

A shortage of investigators isn’t the only thing hurting true Hawaii manufacturers. “If a company really wants to be deceptive and mislead consumers, it’s not hard,” Hanagami says. “There is room for a lot of gray area in the way people interpret their costs.”

For instance, a candy company could buy its chocolate and packaging from China or the Philippines but assemble and finish its products here and still call it made in Hawaii if the local expenses are more than half of the total expenses. While that rubs some local manufacturers the wrong way, the reality is, for most Hawaii businesses, it’s impossible to source 100 percent of their raw materials locally. Even if they could, many consumers wouldn’t pay the higher price.

“Depending on what business you’re in, you might not have any other choice but to purchase your goods and materials overseas, even if you have the right intentions and want to buy local,” Connella says.

His company produces all of its soaps and candles on Kauai but orders its lotion from California because there are no lotion formulators in the state.

For years, mainland companies such as Hawaiian Tropics and Hawaiian Punch have made a killing selling Hawaii-pegged products. A bottle of Hawaiian Tropics’ Dark Tanning Oil reveals it is distributed by Energizer Personal Care in Shelton, Conn., and made by a Florida-based company called Tanning Research Laboratories. 

Similarly, Hawaiian Punch has been riding the Hawaii wave for more than 60 years. The brand is owned by Plano, Texas-based Dr. Pepper Snapple Group Inc., which markets more than 50 beverage brands throughout the U.S. The company’s website says, “The main ingredients of the first Hawaiian Punch recipe were shipped from the Hawaiian Islands, thus the origin of the name.” It’s unlikely that any of the ingredients in today’s version are from Hawaii. 

A trip to any ABC store or Walmart reveals hundreds of knockoff “Hawaiian” products manufactured outside Hawaii – everything from Hawaiian-style condoms to toy ukulele and bogus kukui nut lei. But mainland companies aren’t the only ones using the Hawaii brand to attract customers. For example, the popular Liko Lehua line of rich, flavored butters originally started on the Big Island in 1995, but now is manufactured in San Diego. Nohea Kyle Yee from Liko Lehua says the company still is run and owned by kamaaina. (UPDATE: Dawn Kanealii purchased the company in September 2011. All ingredients are sourced in Hawaii and all products are manufactured on the Big Island, Kanealii says.) Similarly, those super-crunchy Maui-Style Chips that have become a staple at any backyard paina aren’t actually from Maui, or the state, for that matter. They’re made by Frito-Lay, with headquarters in Plano, Texas, and plants across the United States, but none in Hawaii. What about Primo Beer, the brew locals loved and drank back in the day at family parties? It’s now made in Irwindale, Calif.

Connella isn’t surprised. “The labor market on the mainland is much more affordable,” he says. When he purchased Island Soap and Candle Works in 1991, there was one other company selling Island soaps, “and their product was clearly from China,” he says. Today, the local market is saturated with similar misleading products.

Many local manufacturers, such as James “Jimmy” Chan, the owner of Hawaiian Chip Co., are committed to buying local materials whenever possible. Chan says more than 70 percent of the combined ingredients for his popular taro and sweet potato chips are purchased from local suppliers.

“If your product is made in Hawaii, I think that’s instantly added value to the product,” Chan says. “People tend to understand that, if it’s made here, it will cost more because of our isolation. But that also means we’re not for everybody.”

Chan says tourists who purchase his chips are specifically looking for quality, made-in-Hawaii products. “They care that it’s made here, whereas consumers who are value-driven and are only looking at getting the cheapest price probably won’t care where a product is made.”

The word “Hawaiian” in his company name is a big selling point. “After all, ‘Jimmy’s Chips’ could be from anywhere,” he says, laughing.

Hawaii Business magazine invites you to comment on our articles and the issues they raise. Comments are moderated for offensive language, commercial messages and off-topic posts and may be deleted. Some comments may be chosen for inclusion in the magazine on the Feedback page.

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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