Progress in Protecting the Kona Coffee Brand

For years the "Kona Coffee" name and reputation have been threatened by fraud and deception occurring in Hawaii, on the US mainland, and in other parts of the world.

Marketers have been deceptively using the Kona name with little or no Kona coffee in the package. But the State of Hawaii has provided distressingly little protection for its regional names on coffee labels— unlike other states that actively defend the integrity of agricultural product names like "Idaho® potatoes", "Vermont Maple Syrup", and "California Wine".

Of equal concern is the fact that for more than 30 years Hawaii has been the only region anywhere in the world to have a law specifically authorizing the use of its regional names on the packaging of one of its agricultural products (coffee) with only 10% of the contents actually grown in the named region. Under Hawaii law the Kona name (and other regional names like "Maui", "Ka’u", "Kauai") can be used on packages containing 90% unidentified foreign-grown coffee.

But there is now some GOOD NEWS! 

In the past month significant progress has been made on two fronts in the efforts of Hawaii coffee farmers to protect the integrity of our product.

Settlements of $15.25 Million in Class Action Lawsuit

In 2019 a group of Kona Coffee farmers filed a class action lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Seattle alleging that more than 20 defendants were marketing falsely labeled Kona coffee and had economically damaged the growers of Kona coffee. (Corker, et al. v. Costco, et al., USDC, Western District of Washington).

Last month a second round of settlement agreements was announced, bringing the total settlement payments to date to $15.25 million. The case continues against 4 remaining defendants and is scheduled to go to trial in the spring of 2023. The amount of the agreed settlement payments, and the publicity those settlements have generated, provide a powerful disincentive against fraudulent labeling of Kona Coffee in the future. The current state of the case is well summarized in the 2/24/2022 Seattle Times article, "Safeway, QFC Owners Settle with Hawaii Farmers in Fake Kona Coffee Lawsuit".

Progress Toward Reforming Hawaii’s 10% Coffee Blend Labeling Law

Ever since the enactment of the Hawaii 10% Coffee Blend Labeling Law in 1991, Kona’s coffee farmers have been seeking a change to this law which enables deception and fraud. Despite the long and persistent opposition of the economically and politically powerful 10% blenders in Honolulu, this year a bill to reform the 10% law has been passed by the Hawaii House of Representatives and sent to the Senate.

Among other changes, this bill (HB1517) would require a minimum of 51% genuine content in order to use the word "Kona" on the package. It would also require a listing on the label of the percentage of Foreign-Grown Coffee in the package.

Kona’s farmers are pleased with the actions taken by the House, and are cautiously hopeful that the State Senate will follow and make this the year for change as covered in the 2/25/2022 West Hawaii Today article, "Moving Forward: Coffee Labeling Bill Clears House Committees".

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