Diary

KINDA KONA

A bill that would require bags of roasted coffee sold in Hawaii to list the place where each type of coffee it contains was grown, and its percentage by weight in descending order, was introduced to the state legislature by Sen. Josh Green. Whereas current law allows a label to read “10% Kona Coffee Blend” (when 10 percent of the coffee in the bag originates there), the new law, SB2097, would require it to say, for example, “Contains: 60% Brazil, 30% Panama, 10% Kona Coffee Blend.” Blends made up of coffees from other Hawaii regions would also have to abide by these rules.

The intent of the bill, drafted by the Kona Coffee Farmers Association, is two-fold. It seeks truth in labeling, and to clarify, for customers, that “10% Kona Coffee Blend” should not be taken as meaning that the rest of the coffees in the bag were also grown in Hawaii.

The hypothesis is that many customers are duped by the current labeling and will, once they can see what the bags actually contain, be more likely to stop buying the blends and switch to buying coffee bags accurately labeled as containing only Hawaii-grown coffee, despite the much higher price.

The state’s largest roasters, all of whom sell large quantities of 10 percent blends, decry the bill, claiming it will give away trade secrets (namely, the content of their blends). More importantly, though, they argue that the increased cost of keeping the bags up-to-date won’t be feasible, because in a changing marketplace the coffees that comprise the other 90 percent can shift quite regularly, preventing the purchase of larger and cheaper quantities of bags. Interestingly, there’s never any comment about how much this would actually increase the cost, nor any recognition that their competitors would be faced with the same economic burden.