Taro, ti leaf demand high for grad parties but experts say supply is down

Local News

We had an active wet season that saw historic rain levels. Now that’s trickling down to restaurants and businesses who tell us they’re seeing a limited supply of taro and ti leaves, two important ingredients used to make Hawaiian food.

So how are businesses trying to keep up with the demand?

“People come up to the house and say ‘Wow this is like gold already,'” said Gerald Wong, manager of Wong’s Products on Windward Oahu. 

For Wong, his plants are a precious commodity, but even more so after last season’s rainy weather. 

“We’ve had a lot of rain, even the cold. It’s been cold for a long time so that’s been hampering the growth of the leaf,” said Wong, “our production is literally in half right now. We have trouble with labor too, so it’s two-folds.”

This has trickled down to some of Wong’s business clients like Haili’s Hawaiian Foods.

“My supply of taro leaves have been cut by at least 100 pounds every two weeks,” said owner Lorraine Haili-Alo. 

Non-commercial customers are placed on a two week waiting list.

“They so sad.l I have to tell them I’m sorry we ran out,” said Wong, “what we want to do is get our planting in early this year. That’s why we already started the plowing.”

As we were calling other businesses, Keoki’s Lau Lau tells us weather has affected ti leaves. Keoki’s Lau Lau sells mainly to grocery stores. 

“We are only able to produce about 60 percent of our food production, which does not help in this situation of graduation, but it does provide enough for our current customers,” said Michael Yonemura, president of the company. “We have been trying to manage our inventory levels. So we try to project out and ask our customers if they can give us a little more notice. We are asking for 48 to 72 hours for our current customers.”

While supply may be tight for now, those in the industry have been sharing what they can. 

“If we could provide for them we would or we would kind of direct our farmers to help them out,” said Yonemura. 

“If I need more lau lau than I need squid luau, then I’ll make more lau lau and wait for another delivery to come,” said Haili-Alo, “if I have to go down to one or two bags a week because someone else needs, then that’s just how it works here in Hawaii.”

The latest major storm that hit Kauai and Oahu have farmers concerned about their poi production. However, restaurants we talked to say they have not heard of a shortage on poi this year.

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