Under the coffee labeling bill moving through the legislature, there could be a dramatic increase in the amount of local coffee in the blends you drink at restaurants and buy at the store.
But to the dismay of coffee farmers, that change won’t come soon enough.
Bags of coffee that are 10-percent blends of island-grown coffee are on sale just about every week at retail stores around the islands, often for around $4 a bag.
That percentage would jump to 51 percent under a bill proposed by the Kona Coffee Farmers Association.
Amendments now call for a study of the economic impacts, rather than the requested change.
Senator Mike Gabbard, chairman of the Agriculture Committee, made the decision.
“I really think the fairest thing to do is number one, have UH do the research on it, the economic impacts; number two, have the task force made up of coffee growers, all the different groups, see if we can come to some sort of consensus.”
Suzanne Shriner, third-generation coffee farmer and president of the Kona Coffee Farmers Association, says all the island growers associations are disappointed.
“We think it’s a travesty that this bill was gutted this way by Senator Gabbard, and the Senate.”
She says with the 10-percent blends, 90 percent of the price goes to the large blending companies, that have parent companies on the mainland.
“There’s a lot of mainland money here trying to make money off of our brands and off the farmers’ backs. And the purpose of this bill is to put more money into our growers, into our local community that stays here, rather than have it leave island, like so much of our money does. We’d like to see it stay here.”
Jim Lenhart, vice president of sales and service for Hawaii Coffee Co., says if the minimum percentage goes up, so will prices.
“There’s no doubt there would be an increase, not only in the bags of coffee that are sold on the shelf, at stores, but also for all of the foodservice operators around the state.”
He also says there may not be enough local coffee to go around.
“Quite frankly at 51-percent content, there wouldn’t be enough crop to take care of our company.”
Shriner, of Kona, says coffee farmers lose money overall on blends, and encourages consumers and restaurants to choose 100-percent island coffees — that they’ll taste the difference.
The coffee labeling bill moves forward to another hearing — and public testimony is welcomed.