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Coffee's Love Affair with Kona: Kona Rises Above Scandal.

Coffee and Hawaii have had an on again, off again love affair for over 175 years Right now that affair is very much on. It is renaiscent of the scene in the movie Sleeper where Woody Allen is told that, in the distant future they have discovered that steak and ice cream are actually good for you. Similarly. Hawaiian coffee growers are being told that the seemingly disastrous Kona Kar scandal and the advent of large, well capitalized coffee farms on the island of Molokai, Kauai and Maui have actually been good for them. The scandal some revisionists argue, neither destroyed the consumers confidence on interest in Hawaiian coffees not have the big new farms driven the small farmers or kona out of Business. Not that there still is't a lot of works to do.

Necessity has been the mother of Hawaii's recent re-invention of itself vis-a-vis coffee. Hawaii has been non- competitive in the production of its two traditional and famous crops-sugar and pineapples Ironically though these two crops, which can be grown more cheaply in countries with lower labor costs are being slowly replaced by another crop ever more notorious to being dependent on cheap labor-coffee. Even more strange the first thing any Hawaiian coffee grower will tell you is how much higher Hawaiian labor costs are when compared to any other coffee-producing origin. But the explanation is simple there a demonstrated willingness on the part of consumers to pay extra for Hawaii coffee at least Hawaiian coffee from the Konfi coast but there is no willingness it seems to pay a big premium for a Hawaiian pineapple or pound of sugar.

There are those who would say that in the case of coffee, however, the rich soil and soft trade winds bring to the coffee produced on Hawaii's islands a unique and special taste profile. This profile has already been established in coffee from the Kona Coast of Oahu as one of the world's most highly prized (i.e. expensiye, coffees). So expensive, someone even made a very good, if illegal and brief, living selling very nice Panamanian coffees fraudulently labeled as Kona. If the coffees from the Kona Coast can be so higher prized then why can't those from say, Molokai, Kauai and Maui achieve the same reputation and price? They're all Hawaiian islands, after all.

One of the problems is that just as the new farms were coming on line, the Kona coffee scandal necessitated a retrenchment, and even some Kona coffee producers wondered if they could weather the storm that ensued. To make matters worse, the lawsuit on the part of Kona coffee growers filed against the perpetrator, Kona Kai, and the roasters that were unwittingly buying Kona Kai's fraudulent product created even more distrust. (Michael Norton, who has pleaded guilty to charges relating to the Kona Kai fraud, was to be sentenced in October, but this was subsequently rescheduled.)

Even though one company, whose principals are interviewed herein, takes the position that the Kona Kai scandal actually catalyzed some improvements statewide for Hawaiian coffee, the immediate and lingering effects were and have been mistrust of the product and lingering resentment to some of those that produce it. To combat this, the State Department of Agriculture in Hawaii made certification of all coffee produced in the state mandatory and has also established trademarks for each of the island's coffees. Before the scandal, certification was optional.

While many coffee farmers agree that the kind of soil and climate that are found in the Hawaiian islands are ideal for coffee, the idea that the market is willing to pay nearly the same price for twice as much Hawaiian coffee as was produced 10 years ago has already been soundly disproved. Yet, conversely, it has also been demonstrated that the allure of Kona coffee is not yet transferable to the other coffees of Hawaii, either from the perspective of the cupping room or the marketer's office. If Kona could double what it produces, at the same average quality, it might have been a different story, price-wise. And this is not to say the new coffees of the other islands are not as good. But even given that they are, it will take a lot more marketing to help the average consumer accept it and be willing to pay for it. Because one thing is clear: in the marketplace today, the consumer is not guided strictly by objective and well-informed notions of quality when it comes to their purchases of coffee (in either a beverage or whole bean form).

It is popular now, but often inappropriate, to view every issue in the coffee industry against some alleged trends in the popularity of specialty coffee. First of all, these "trends," to the extent they exist in the first place, affect only very specific sectors of the market. There is a lot of coffee business going on in the world today that looks a lot like it did 40 years ago, and it easily represents well over 90% of the world's consumption (the problem of what "specialty coffee" really is makes the estimation of this percentage increasingly difficult). That so much of the coffee business is bumping along indistinguishably from the way it did decades ago makes it all the more tempting to look to the one area of the industry going through daily doses of upheaval, change and even controversy on a daily basis.

Yet, in considering the coffees of Hawaii, there really is no more fair and accurate basis for measuring their success or failure than by standards applicable to the specialty sector. Whether the coffee, in fact, tastes good is a valid question, and whether the work being done will lead to coffee that tastes even better, is one that is also fair game. The coffee, after all, is being sold for multiples of the market rather than a differential under the banner of being some of the world's best. The answer to the first question is pretty well known already--sometimes, certain Hawaiian coffees can taste very good indeed. The answer to the second question is less often considered, overlooked really, but far more exciting--some of the work being done in Hawaii on coffee could change the way coffee is grown throughout the world. While the coffees themselves may not be there yet, the people and the science, the farmers and the agricultural practices are truly first class.

The drop in perceived value from rare and romantically sourced specialty coffee to ordinary, low-grown, but exceptionally clean coffee is a vast one. Many people in the business of growing coffee in the state of Hawaii would not bother to argue that the premium asked for these coffees is justified on the basis of quality. Rather, they will say, though not for attribution, "Look, Hawaii is a beautiful and romantic tourist destination. If people can buy a piece of that in the form of coffee and imagine that they will re-experience that in their morning cup of coffee when they return home, then I have sold them something valuable and authentic, regardless of what some 'expert' says about the way the coffee actually tastes."

The biggest stumbling block has been, it seems, getting coffee to taste as good when grown at near sea level as it does when grown at 5,000 ft. The theory is that the further away from the equator you go, the lower in altitude you can grow your coffee and still produce a crop comparable in quality to that grown at mile-high elevations in Central America. The best farmers of Kona have produced some great tasting coffees, with wisps of acidity and complexity against a backdrop of clean, pure, and simple neutral coffee aroma and flavor. Indeed, it is not easy to find clean, low-grown and low acid washed Arabicas. Coffees like this, though, are much prized in certain markets, notably Japan and Korea. It could be that the worldwide standard for what is an excellent coffee and what that sort of coffee is worth will be redefined again and again as new markets for coffee open and mature.

All of this is to say that, as an industry, it would behoove us to not accept that a coffee is intrinsically better just because it costs more to produce, or because more is asked for it. Yet, neither should it be assumed that a particular coffee project does not (and will not) produce coffee which will provide some people with a very positive experience simply because it does not match the ideals established by those in the business. The popularity of low-acid, neutral coffees in Japan and Korea serves as a case in point.

It is now roughly five years since the Kona Kai scandal and 10-15 years since the introduction of coffee farming to the islands of Molokai, Maui and Kauai. In an effort to assess where the business of growing coffee in Hawaii is at this point, we talked to some of the people who were there then and who are, it seems--more than ever--here now.


One of Hawaii's new coffee pioneers, John T. Hays, has worked hard to establish coffee as a crop for the state of Hawaii, rather than one reserved exclusively for the Kona Coast. Hays was a founder of Molokai-based Coffees of Hawaii, Inc., and helped initiate experiments, now famous in the specialty trade, regarding the taste performance of various coffee hybrids and varietals when grown in identical conditions. Interestingly, Hays was the first to be accredited by the Department of State, in 1988, as a delegate to International Coffee Organization in London for the U.S. producing sector--a duty which he still performs along with being a charter member of the ICO's Permanent Expert Panel, one of two U.S. members, from September 1995 until today.

Coffees of Hawaii, Inc., got started in 1984 when Howard Stevenson, then the president of the Bank of Hawaii, decided to back John Hays and his partners. "Pineapple and sugarcane are going down the tubes," Hays quotes Stevenson as saying back then. Hays then related that the bank president continued, "Bank of Hawaii will back you and I am very enthusiastic. I want to make coffee the new crop of Hawaii." Hays then started Coffees of Hawaii in late 1984. "We started looking for hybrids that would grow into low, compact trees because we knew that the farm would have to mechanically harvest the crop to be economical," he remembers.

Hays' perspective extends well beyond his own area, though, and he can offer a more "global" view of Hawaiian coffee production than perhaps anyone else. "Kona coffee has been grown since 1827. During the 1890s, coffee was the biggest Hawaiian crop, with 15,000 acres in 1900. In 1893 Hawaii became the Republic of Hawaii and in 1898 it became property of the U.S. So, in considering where to locate this new coffee operation, Hays surveyed not only the islands but the history of the Hawaiian Islands as well. "We looked at all of the eight major islands--of those, seven will support coffee. (There's no ground water on Kahoolawe)."

Hays described the evolution of the windbreak employed at Coffees of Hawaii that more or less exemplifies the kind of learning process necessary to succeed in growing coffee in a new environment. It also reflects the determination necessary to stay in the business, particularly in Hawaii.

"It was traditional in Hawaii for Ironwood trees to be used for shade and for providing windbreak," Hays noted, "but the needles are toxic to coffee." Not being able to instantly create tall shade trees in the time frame needed, "The farm management worked to develop a three-tiered windbreak system starting with Sorghum and Sudan grass which grows quickly and becomes a very good windbreak. Next, Willy Willy trees were planted which grow fast and can protect 10 rows of coffee. Finally, Norfolk pines were planted, and these can provide windbreak for a much larger area. Norfolk pines are cleaner than ironwood and their needles are nontoxic."

Hays describes the coffee coming out the Coffees of Hawaii operation on Molokai as "similar to Maui coffee: very mild, good aroma, good body and low acidity. Acidity," Hays explained, "is a function of elevation and latitude." He says this meaning that, because of Hawaii's relative distance from the equator, that finer, more acidic coffee may be produced at a lower elevation than would be possible in Central America. Adding to the elegance of the cup, Hays noted that a full fermentation is done at the operation in Molokai, as is generally done in Kona, but no where else in the state.


Dan Kuhn, who is described by John T. Hays as "the most competent field operations man in Hawaii today" is also the president and chief operating officer of Coffees of Hawaii, Inc.

Kuhn's initial comments reflected the concerns of someone in charge of day-to-day operations, "People say I can buy a good Kenyan for a buck and why should I pay several dollars for a coffee from Hawaii. Production costs in Hawaii are substantially higher, our average labor costs are $8.50 per hour plus overhead--no other coffee-producing origin pays this kind of labor cost except, possibly, Australia. All of our supplies, such as fertilizers, have to be shipped in, and land is also expensive. So, there's no point to growing coffee in Hawaii unless you can produce premium coffee at a premium price. If you look at the timeline, all the new coffee projects outside of Kona are now eight to ten years of age. We've all spent a lot of money and a lot of time creating the physical infrastructure. Now everyone is trying to develop a market for estate brand coffees for each of the different islands. As I've just said, you can't produce coffee in Hawaii for world market pricing. But you can sell your own estate coffee roasted or green. Or you can team up with Kona and do a 10% Kona blend. The problem is that the big roasters use 10% Kona and the rest is other stuff. We have not slashed our prices just to get it out the door. Unfortunately, in retrospect, maybe the Kauai should not have started out with approximately 3,500 acres in production. This, combined with our acreage in Molokai of 500 and Oahu's approximately 100 and Maui's 500--you take all that and add it to the farms on Kona, 700 different farms with over 2,500 acres total, and that's a lot of premium coffee to market." The quantity, approximately 8.1 million pounds total, according to the Hawaii Agricultural Statistics Service, is obviously not a factor in terms of worldwide production but it has come to Hawaii very quickly--almost twice the amount produced four years ago, and some farms have been more successful than others in holding their price.

But, as Kuhn pointed out, quantity is not the whole story, Kuhn underlined that he did not believe that a Hawaiian coffee could rest on simply being Hawaiian. Neither did he, as some farmers in Kona are wont to do, proclaim that his was the best coffee in the world. One of the additional benefits of the entry of other islands into the Hawaiian coffee business is that all producers on the islands have had to take a more objective look at the cupping qualities of their coffee. The scandal, too, forced a reassessment of what the coffees from Kona really should or could taste like--and what they taste like now. It also proved to be an object lesson for the newer farms on the other islands; if they did not develop coffees of high quality and unique flavor profiles then all their marketing efforts would be built on the shifting sands. Each island's coffee farms, the good ones at least, are working to apply the best farming practices to their crops, while also recognizing that their efforts are very much a work in progress.

Dan Kuhn, for his part, is simply minding the details of producing the best coffee his farm can produce: he lets others be the judge of his efforts. "I feel that fermentation adds acidity and complexity, so we do full sun drying and fermentation like Kona. Consequently, our Malulani Estate coffee holds true to the profile of a washed coffee. We developed the capacity for full patio drying. We're in a dry, windy area, so that makes it a good place for sun drying, but we do have movable roofs that we can pull out over the coffee at night and in the event of rain."

Because the Coffees of Hawaii, Inc. operation machine picks it coffees, as do the farms on Kauai and Maui, a certain amount of overripe cherries are always found in the pickings. Kuhn removes these prior to pulping, however, and he does not want any of this coffee in his Malulani estate. "Our Muleskinner brand, is made from the overripe cherries, we don't want to use these in our washed coffee so we don't pulp them...instead, we dry them in the cherry. It is a heartier cup with more sugars from the dry process technique we use, with higher body and lower acidity. This is not what we call our premier coffee, but we have a lot of people liking our Muleskinner brand."

With regard to the specifics of this year, Kuhn continued, "Growing wise, this year, all of Hawaii was very dry, Kona has had some good rains lately, which is important since they are the only island with generally unirrigated coffee farms."

Kuhn concluded with a brief summary of his farm's production, "We produce about 650,000 pounds of green. We roast 30% ourselves and this goes out to supermarkets, specialty stores and mail-order. The remaining 70% goes out green. We have four types: our flagship Maulani Estate in a medium roast; the Muleskinner in a darker roast; our one flavored coffee, Island Princess, which is a combo of two coffees plus Tongan vanilla; and a reasonably dark roast. Finally, we have our Molokai style Espresso which is also a blend of the Malulani and the Muleskinner with a well-developed espresso roast on it.

Chela Lopez Kuhn, the director of sales and marketing for Coffees of Hawaii, Inc., pointed out that there is a movement afoot on the part of some farmers to change the law stipulating that any coffee labeled as a blend of Kona, or Maui, Molokai of Kauai coffee contain at least 10% of that coffee. Proponents of the change want the law to stipulate that the minimum be 30%, thus requiring not only greater use of the coffee but also making that blend component more noticeable in the taste of the coffee. "We had some visitors from Japan recently," Lopez-Kuhn noted, "and they had several observations, one of which was that their fellow countrymen visit Hawaii, pick up either flavored or a K blend, take it home and say Hawaiian coffee is not good, not realizing it has little or no Hawaiian coffee in it. They stated that Hawaii could avoid this 'bad' image by changing the 10% Kona and 10% other Hawaiian coffees, to at least 30% or 50%. Japan laws require that a bag of coffee state the exact percentages of coffee con tained in the package, and at least 30% of the content such as Kona, be required to name it a "famous origin coffee".


Richard Loero, currently president of the Hawaii Coffee Growers Association, and also with Kaanapali Coffee Company on the island of Maui, reported that this year's crop is coming in late, "We didn't start officially until two weeks ago, we had a coolish and overcast late summer, last year at this time we were half way through our crop."

But Loero's concerns are more long term when it comes to pursuing the interests of Kaanapali Coffee Company or of Hawaiian coffee growers in general, "As a growers association, we are looking for true Hawaiian varieties. The varieties we use now were developed elsewhere, in Central America primarily. The University of Hawaii and the Hawaii Agricultural Research Center, they both have first class plant breeders. As a result of their work, I hope, we will be coming up with better tasting varieties, better yielding. These new varieties should do well in terms of disease and pest resistance, and do well in our environment. Many people don't realize that in Hawaii we have our own varieties of sugar, and even different sugar varieties for different elevations. So, in the case of coffee, we're going to have first class varieties. It's an expensive process but one that we know is essential."

The kind of control Loero seeks over his agronomic destiny, and the type of benefit that can be derived from such a search becomes clear when he describes the selection of varietals he presently grows. "We currently have moka, yellow caturra, typica and red catuai. These coffees were some of the best tasting in our early trials, and they prosper in our climate. An added benefit, however, is that they ripen at different times during harvest, This allows us to have less installed capacity by giving us a longer harvest season, yellows are always first, for instance. We do all mechanical but that doesn't mean we aren't selective. When the trees were small and young we looked at some handpicking here and there. We really pay the price of machine picking in terms of the loss we incur. In the factory we lose around 12% and in the fields we lose 10-15%. In a year like this I'll do four passes per field, last year we did three, the year before we did five. Slow is better for the coffee, but it can go very slowly"

Loero has a very basic attitude toward his role as production manager at Kaanapali Coffee Company, "It's farming," he states. But he's also very proud of what he and his colleagues have accomplished, "Everything's under drip, so we can control a great deal. We only had about two big flowerings."

But Kaanapali as an organization is beginning to not only focus on farming, but on marketing as well. Loero notes that the company has shifted focus over the years it has been in business. "We started as most growers over here as green bean sellers and evolved into selling 60% of our production roasted. Next year we'll sell 80%. For a grower in the states, it makes no sense to sell green. We have two lines, they're all estate coffees. We're selling not only the coffee but also the islands. We started as a division of a very large sugar mill, that sugar mill was closed last year. The crop is about 500 acres, we're harvesting 450 acres this year and we're producing 650,000 pounds." From Loero's comments, it is easy to see that the operation has lots of room to grow at this point. But the dynamics Loero's working with are very different than what one might expect; ironically, land is the least expensive input. "What drives us is cost per acre, not yield per acre. Central America has yields of 40-50 hundred weig hts per hectare and we have 20-30 in Hawaii. That translates to us doing 2,000-3,000 pounds per acre." The rest of the mission for Loero is fine-tuning and exploring options, "We do aquapulping and no fermentation at all. We pulp overripes, we did innumerable trials to see if there was a significant difference and found none. We also looked at whole naturals, and there we found a difference. The decision was simple--we pulp our overripe and then dry it, it doesn't have mucilage anyway so there is no need for fermentation. We used to offer four varieties, both washed and natural. One product is three varietals mixed and that's the blue line. We toll decaffeinate the same line in Vancouver, BC, at Swiss Water, and we also sell it flavored."



Chris McLaughlin is president of Captain Cook Coffee Co., Ltd., and is responsible for selling and marketing the coffee. His father, Steve McLaughlin, well known as the president of his coffee importing company, Cal Trading, is also chairman of Captain Cook Coffee Co., Ltd. Steve McLaughlin was first to comment on the recent evolution of the Hawaiian coffee business, "We divide [Hawaii's recent coffee history] into two segments: before Kona Kai had problems and after. As a result of Kona Kai's fiasco, the industry got better, because now the Hawaii State Department of Agriculture has mandatory certification for all the islands. It's the key to the success of Kona coffee, because when you're selling coffee as expensive as Kona coffee is, your customers want that coffee to be pure."

The certification that Steve McLaughlin refers to is the State of Hawaii's guarantee that the coffee being sold (and this refers to coffee in green form) is 100% from the area denoted. McLaughlin reflected that Captain Cook Coffee Company always has had a policy of certifying their coffee, even before it was mandatory. Hawaii's program may be the most stringent origin-labeling requirement in the world.

Chris McLaughlin emphasized how important it is for the roaster and retailer to know that the Kona coffee they are buying is certified. "Coffee coming out of Hawaii has to be certified. The scandal is the reason why some roasters have lost consumer trust, and in the wake of the scandal the certification has allowed us to rebuild trust. The Kona coffee industry is still going through their uphill battle, they're achieving that, but it's taken five years to get consumer confidence back on line. We've done everything we can to support certification. In addition, we now have trademark certification. This is what it's going to take, I believe, to market Kona coffee successfully in the future. No other producing country can do it. You can't monitor Brazil with 30 million bags of coffee. Jamaica comes the closest to doing what we do. Most important, we want to be sure our customers know their getting the real stuff. We do everything we can to ensure that, and more, in that we also want our coffee to taste great."

On Captain Cook Coffee's part, Chris McLaughlin indicated, "We're looking forward to this season. Although it's early it looks like the overall quality of our crop will be excellent. We expect a little bit more than last year and I expect the yield out of the cherry will be good as well."


Steve Hicks, managing director of Greenwell Farms predicts, "It's going to be a good year, a larger crop than last year. The quality looks good, overall demand is firming up, the market took a bit of a dive in terms of the Kona Kai scandal and the subsequent lawsuit. In terms of getting a good cupping it's a little early, it needs some 'repose.' The crop is a little late relative to previous years but in terms of physical appearance and size, it looks great so far. We find that when you see a good crop it relates to the cup. Generally the farmer in Kona manages the soil to get the healthiest tree he can, and leaves it at that. We support that tree in whatever phase it is in. Since a lot of this is dry land farming we have to make sure that the soil will always be in the best shape possible."

With regard to the impact of the other islands now producing coffee, Hicks was upbeat, "I was involved with the Kona Coffee Council in the early 1980s and at that time there was a great deal of concern about the production coming on line from the other islands." But there would be more benefits in store for those Kona coffee farmers who took their time, "The state Department of Agriculture has various programs, for instance, so the larger we as an industry are throughout the state, the more attention we get. Through the Hawaii Coffee Association, our industry is taking on various appellation standards." Hicks implies that without coffee growing on the other islands, this and other projects might not have gotten started. "In general the effect of the newer farms has been very beneficial The Hawaiian Coffee Association has been very good for us, and is becoming stronger because of the larger growers coming on the market."



Frank E. Kiger, vice president and general manager of Kauai Coffee Company and current president of the Hawaii Coffee Association (HCA) was upbeat with regard to the impact that Hawaii's newer coffee producers have had on the Hawaiian coffee industry. "The industry is working together very well statewide and generating positive results--this joint effort has affected every aspect of the coffee business statewide: growing, processing, roasting and marketing. There was a lot of separatism at first, but now it's a lot more positive, and that mood extends from seed to cup." This positive landscape makes it a good time for the HCA to get things done, according to Kiger. "The Hawaii Coffee Association has come in at a point to help solve problems. One of the big projects for the HCA this year is to review existing blend laws and the truth in labeling laws. It looks as though we'll be able to get consensus all through the industry and every segment of the business, while we're working very positively with the state government. Our main goals are to protect and educate the consumer, and basically to protect the integrity of Hawaiian coffee."

Voicing the same sentiment that many in the business now voice, Kiger wants the HCA and the industry to move forward in positive ways: "We don't want to beat the drum too loud about things that have happened in the past. We would rather look at largely focusing on labeling and what the requirements should be on labeling, making sure that when the consumer picks up a package of coffee he is sure he knows what he's getting, especially the visitors." ("Visitors," it seems is the new, politically correct term for "tourists," according to Kiger, sounding somewhat perturbed. But one wonders why we all can't be called Hawaiians, allowing that some of us are residency-challenged.)

Semantics aside, Kiger continued, "It's very well documented that a visitor to Hawaii will purchase a 100% Hawaiian coffee, and not a 10% blend if he or she knows the difference, even if the 100% is significantly more expensive." Kiger then chuckled and reflected, "Rather than saying a coffee is 10% Kona coffee it should say 90% non-Hawaiian coffee." Kiger then explained that there are two schools of thought with regard to blending and labeling, "One is to change the blend law and increase the percentage, the other is to change the labeling requirements so that the consumer is aware of what they're getting." But within this argument there are considerable complexities, dotting I's and crossing t's, quite literally, becomes the name of the game. "If a package says 'Kona Coffee,' for example then it has to be 100% Kona coffee, and if it's a blend then the word 'BLEND' has to appear between 'Kona' and 'Coffee,' and," Kiger laughed, "the word 'Blend' should be two inches high."

Kiger attempted to sort out more of the in's and out's of the various regulations, "As of right now the blend law only protects and pertains to Kona, so the blend law needs to be amended so we have protection in labeling the coffees from other islands." (Obviously, since blend is not something that is generally SUPPOSED to happen to green coffee before it is sold to a roaster, blend labeling deals strictly with roasted coffee.) Kiger continued, "The certification process pertains to grade and origin and is regulated by the State of Hawaii. The trademarks for each of the islands, however, are a federal program and that's where we are federally protected, for the time being that has mostly to do with the sale of green coffee but we'll deal with roasted coffee in the future, but for that we'll have to develop definitions of use. Basically we need to create an audit trail, much as they do with organic coffee, so we can track from the green to the grocery store. We need to have that kind of audit trail in force." Kiger concluded with regard to this topic, "It's definitely a first step having your origins registered and federally protected. I think it's where the other origins worldwide are heading and I think we're (Hawaii) the leaders." Many origins are, in fact, considering the registration of their most desirable coffee producing regions, but Kiger has a point: which has done more than the coffee producers of Hawaii?

Perhaps more than any other new farm, Kauai Coffee Company has been taken to task for producing "too much coffee" and endangering the premium that all Hawaiian coffee farmers hope to attract. Kauai Coffee's critics will be happy to hear that, according to Kiger, "It's going great with our coffee, we've made major improvements this year and we expect demand to be higher than supply next year. Japan has helped somewhat in that regard. Of course they kind of dropped off for a few years with their economic problems but now they take 20-25% of our production." Kiger does not indicate that it was easy, rather he describes how management actually increased the sense of competition and free enterprise to the get the most out of his people, "Here as far as our coffee goes, we've taken a little different approach. We split our 3,400 acres to six different farms and assigned permanent people to each of the six farms. This arrangement has stimulated a little friendly competition and we have an annual cupping contest tha t enhances this. When we looked at what we had on the farm, we decided that our best marketing is our estate itself. So, basically I'm doing a lot of traveling and bringing the farm to wherever the people are. We're selling 95% green, we believe we don't want to compete with our customers, so we don't sell roasted coffee outside of our visitors center and a few select locations here on Kauai."

The names of the farms that the Kauai property have been divided into are as follows: Ekahi, Hoowaiwai, Hanini, Kihapai Pomaika, Pookela, and Uluwehi Aluwehi.

There is, in fact, these days a uniformly (almost sickeningly) optimistic point of view toward competition and the tough breaks the Hawaiian coffee industry has had over the past few years--the economic downturn in Japan and the effect on the trade with "visitors" was not even mentioned here. Now, it can't be said that a little scandal and competition never hurt anyone, far from it. Those not directly connected with the Hawaiian coffee business say the scandal hurt the farmers more than they themselves are willing to admit. One roaster who recently visited the Kona coast noted that some farmers say due to the scandal they are selling only half their coffee. Another farmer said it didn't matter because the labor supply on the island had become so tight they can only pick half of it anyway. Apropos to this, there is another proverb, "That which doesn't kill us, will make us stronger." The coffee growers of Hawaii may want to consider it, survival -- in most cases, is preferable to the alternative.

Timothy J. Castle is the president of Castle Communications, a company specializing in marketing and public relations for the coffee and tea industries. He is also the co-author (with Joan Nielsen) of The Great Coffee Book, recently published by Ten Speed Presks, and the author of The Perfect Cup (Perseus Books).
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Title Annotation:developments in Hawaii's coffee industry after fraudulent marketing scandal
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Geographic Code:1U9HI
Date:Dec 20, 2000
Previous Article:Spain's Great Fertile Ground For New Ideas in Coffee.
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