Hawaiian-grown Kona coffee beans already come with a hefty price tag, which could go even higher if lawsuits and legislative actions favor farmers over coffee processors and packagers. At issue is the labeling of many brands of coffee with the name "Kona," when the blends really contain only 10 percent or less of the highly prized bean.
A measure to address this controversy by changing labeling requirements for coffee blends was sidetracked by the Hawaii legislature April 2. According to the Hawaii Tribune Herald, the bill would have required any roasted or instant coffee labeled "Kona Blend," or claiming origin points such as Ka'u or Kauai on the packaging, to contain product that is at least 51 percent by weight from the advertised region. The current requirement is 10 percent. It's a battle that's been brewing for over 30 years.
In a separate but related development, Modern Farmer reports that three coffee growers are suing several huge retailers and multiple coffee producers for selling fake Kona coffee. The list of defendants includes Amazon, Kroger, Walmart, Costco and Safeway along with producers such as Magnum Coffee Roastery of Michigan, Copper Moon Coffee in Indiana and Maui Coffee Co of Hawaii.
Why Is Kona Coffee So Expensive?
Modern Farmer points out that Kona coffee is grown only on the slopes of two volcanoes on the Big Island of Hawai'i. Because of the small land area it's grown on, as well as the fact that Kona growers have to abide by stricter American labor laws, Kona coffee tends to cost more than twice as much as coffee grown in other parts of the world. Only 2.7 million pounds of Kona coffee are grown each year.
Because Kona is so expensive, coffee processors often market Kona "blends," in other words, Kona mixed with other coffee varieties to keep costs down. In a demonstration of how this unfairly impacts growers, the recent class action lawsuit filed by Kona farmers identified 19 so-called "Kona" brands that allegedly contain only trace amounts of Kona or none at all.
Labeling And The Law
For now, the legislative solution has been delayed, generating complaints that mainland coffee processors won out over local growers. The compromise solution didn't increase the Kona content to 51 percent as hoped for, but instead changed the purpose of the bill from revising labeling requirements to requesting a three-year study by the University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization of the economic impact such a law would have on the coffee industry.
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