HONOLULU -- Kona coffee growers want Hawaii's labeling law modified to provide more details on packages of coffee blends that contain Hawaii-grown beans.
Currently, coffee blends sold in the state that contain Hawaii-grown coffee must disclose what percentage is grown in the islands, and it must be at least 10 percent. The Kona Coffee Farmers Association said Thursday that it wants the state Legislature to consider a bill it has drafted that would also identify where the remainder of the blend is grown.
If the association is successful an example of a package label would read, "90 percent Panamanian coffee, 10 percent Kona coffee."
The state senator from Kona said Thursday he plans to introduce the bill at the end of the month. "I respect the local community and Kona coffee is a big issue for us," state Sen. Josh Green, D-Milolii-Waimea, said.
For the farmers, it's about truth-in-labeling and protecting the integrity of a world-famous Hawaii product. Hawaii is the only place in the United States where coffee is grown. Coffee aficionados pay a premium for coffee grown in farms in the Kona district, known for its rich volcanic soil and tropical climate.
"The state of Hawaii needs to be with the Kona coffee farmers," said Colehour Bondera, the association's president. "We're the most lucrative agricultural commodity in the state."
A pound of pure Kona coffee can sell for about $25 – more if it's organic.
Not giving consumers all the information about where coffee is grown dilutes the perception of Kona's quality, Bondera said.
When the 10 percent blend law was introduced in 1991, there was a provision mandating disclosing the origin of all coffee in the blend, he said, but pressure from Honolulu coffee blenders resulted in making it voluntary, which none of the major blenders have opted to do.
But modifying the law to restore mandatory disclosure would just be a small step for the farmers, he said. Several years ago there was a failed effort to increase the minimum percentage of Hawaii-grown coffee in blends to at least 75 percent. The farmers would prefer only blends that are mostly Kona bear that name.
"The name Kona should not be used on any products that's not mostly Kona," Bondera said. "When people talk about wines, you can't a buy a Napa wine when it's only 10 percent Napa."
Hawaii's coffee blend labeling law is an offshoot of regulations put in place after a scandal in the 1990s when inexpensive coffee beans grown in Latin America were being passed off and sold as pure Kona coffee. It only applies to blends sold in Hawaii.
In August, Safeway agreed to change the label on packages of Kona coffee blend sold in mainland stores in response to concerns from the Kona farmers that it didn't provide information about what percentage of the famous bean it contains. The company also agreed to begin selling 100 percent Kona coffee in northern and southern California starting this year.