Paradise in a Cup of Coffee?

by Chad Riney, Staff Member

“Over the last decade, the Kona Coffee belt, a 20-mile strip of plantations along [Hawaii’s] west coast, has become the Napa Valley for coffee devotees, complete with farm tours and tastings.” Maura Egan, Naughty by Nature, N.Y. Times Style Magazine, March 26, 2010, It is no surprise that Hawaii has regulated this valuable industry in an attempt to protect it. Hawaiian law requires that the packaging of locally grown coffee indicate both where in Hawai’i the coffee was grown and the percentage by weight of the contents of Hawaiian coffee. HRS §486-120.6. In addition, it is unlawful to label a Hawaiian region as a source of the product when the percent by weight is less than ten percent. Id.

The laws attempt to protect and preserve the industry’s reputation. The labeling requirement is essentially a disclosure requirement; consumers will know how much Hawaiian coffee they are getting and from where it comes. The baseline requirement, ten percent, for labeling the coffee as a blend prevents dishonest coffee producers from claiming their product to be Hawaiian. But the question is whether these requirements are actually effective in preserving the prestige of Hawaiian coffee.

The Kona Coffee Famers Association makes a pretty strong argument that these laws do not effectively meet their goals. They claim that the labeling laws are used deceptively for promoting coffee by including the minimal amount of Kona coffee. See Kona Coffee Facts, Kona Coffee Farmers Association, (last visited Jan. 26, 2011). The Association is not opposed to the blending of coffee, they are concerned foreign coffee producers can use the Kona name to market their lower grade coffee. See id.

The institution of labeling requirements is undeniably a step in the right direction towards nourishing the Hawaiian coffee industry. However, changes must be made in order to prevent low-grade coffee producers from entering the market on Kona’s coattails.