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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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.
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