Resolution calls for greater limitations on use of Hawaiian names on coffee

Hawaii county officials are urging state legislators to impose stricter restrictions on the use of Hawaii location names on coffee packaging.

According to the Hawaii Tribune-Herald, a Hawaii County Council resolution passed unanimously last week would require coffee blends to be at least 51% Hawaii-grown to use geographic names on their labelling. Under current state law, distributors may use Hawaii names such as Kona and Ka’u on coffee products containing as little as 10% of beans from the designated region.

Native coffee farmers testifying at Wednesday’s council meeting, during which the resolution was passed, said the current policy is too lenient and allows large distributors to push small farmers out of the market. Additionally, they stated, it is detrimental to their brand.

“When consumers are misled into believing that ‘Kona’ blends are (genuine) Kona coffee and are disappointed by the taste of those blends, our heritage coffees are irreversibly damaged,” coffee farmer Bruce Corker told The Associated Press during the meeting.

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Around 600 Kona coffee growers, including Corker, sued major coffee retailers in 2019 for labelling coffee that did not originate in Kona as “Kona” blends. According to the Tribune-Herald, several of these companies have offered preliminary settlements totalling more than $13 million.

According to a Congressional Research Service report, geographic indications, or GIs, “protect the quality and reputation of a distinctive product originating in a particular region.” Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, Champagne from the same-named region in France, and Florida oranges are all examples of established GIs.

Coffee grower Jim Monk said Wednesday that mainland distributors’ 10% blends “defraud and confuse” consumers and “smear the name of Hawaii.”

North Kona Councilman Holeka Inaba, who introduced the resolution, intends to directly contact state legislators to expedite action during the upcoming legislative session, which begins in January.

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