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TheBuzz

BY ERIKA ENGLE

Monday, December 3, 2001



Freeze-dried WHAT?!

The Poi Co. may have struck gold by solving many complex issues with one seven ounce can -- of freeze-dried poi. It's enough to prepare nearly three and a half pounds of gooey purple pleasure, depending on the desired consistency.

"We received it Friday of last week," said President Craig Walsh, as he prepared for a trade show at Blaisdell Center. It was a shipment three years in the making, with the research and development process involving Oregon Freeze Dry in Albany, Ore.

"We'd been working on it for three years," he said, with an eye toward giving poi a longer shelf-life for folks on the mainland and in Hawaii, "for emergency poi -- in case you suddenly have a craving for poi."

Because harvests of taro from whence poi is made can be irregular, the freeze-dried product may help stabilize the supply of poi available for both individual and commercial applications, such as cooking or baking year-round.

Can you say 'wholesale market'?

Granted, he said, powdered poi is available from "our competitors," but it's different.

"We are the second-biggest in the state," he said, "but I think we're the biggest on the Internet. Customers visit our Web site, and we have a great deal with UPS where we can guarantee next-day delivery."

For now The Poi Co. is selling its new product itself, mostly through its Web site at www.thepoicompany.com, and a little bit from the factory at 749 Kopke St. The freeze-dried poi sells for $15 a can "which sounds horribly expensive, but it makes a lot of poi."

Getting the product into stores will come later, "this is the world's worst time to approach the buyers," Walsh said.

The whole process starts with "paiai," or very thick, concentrated poi, which is frozen immediately after it comes out of the mill, Walsh said.

It is then shipped frozen to Oregon to be freeze-dried as there are no such facilities in the islands, Walsh said.

From the re-sealable, vacuum-packed can the freeze-dried poi "is just mixed with water and blasted for 50 seconds in the microwave," which removes any powdery texture, he said. "People would ask us how it compares to fresh poi," Walsh said. "We haven't done 'the Pepsi challenge' and it's hard for me to say, but it's pretty close to it."

The Kalihi-based company recently made national waves when a popular magazine wrote about the allegedly "magical poi diet," and it was swamped with thousands of telephone and e-mail inquiries and orders for the Hawaiian staple.

He thought the fad would instantly fade, but still gets orders from mainland customers who swear by it -- even if they do mix it with crushed pineapple before eating it.





Erika Engle is a reporter with the Star-Bulletin.
Call 529-4302, fax 529-4750 or write to Erika Engle,
Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 500 Ala Moana Blvd., No. 7-210,
Honolulu, HI 96813. She can also be reached
at: eengle@starbulletin.com




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