Proposed Coffee Labeling Bill Moves From House to Senate Committees for Hearing

Rep. Nicole Lowen has introduced a House bill that aims to increase the amount of locally grown coffee in products required for a Hawai‘i-grown label. The bill, which passed the House with amendments, would make it a violation of coffee labeling law to use a geographic origin, such as “Kona”, “Ka‘ū” or “Kaua‘i,” in labeling or advertising for roasted coffee, instant coffee, or ready-to-drink coffee beverage blends that contain less than a certain percentage of coffee by weight from that geographic origin. A hearing date has not yet been set, and if none is scheduled before March 21, the bill dies.

Lowen, who represents Kailua-Kona, Honokōhau, Kalaoa, Pu‘uanahulu, Puakō, and a portion of Waikōloa, introduced the original bill at the beginning of session. She said stricter coffee labeling laws have been presented to the legislature for the past 30 years. Existing law allows coffee blends that contain only very small amounts of coffee beans from these distinctive regions to use the name of those regions on product packaging, a practice that deceives consumers and harms coffee growers.

The Hawai‘i Coffee Association supports the bill to the extent that they want it to keep moving. They would rather it be supported than killed, and they will make their case in the Senate to return the bill to its previous version. Kona coffee is a gourmet product, and diluting it down is not a good strategy.

The Retail Merchants of Hawai‘i testified during House committee meetings opposing HB 2298, stating that locally grown coffee, like Kona coffee, is already one of the most expensive beans in the world. They argue that mandating 100% of the coffee used must come from local beans to be called Kona or Kaua‘i coffee would drive the price per bag up significantly. Raw coffee imported to the state and blended with local coffee commonly sells for less than $2 per pound, artificially increasing the supply of premium coffee and lowering the price.

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