GEORGE F. LEE / GLEE@STARBULLETIN.COM
The number of products borrowing the "Hawaii" brand name has been multiplying in recent years, state officials say. Above, William Pierpont and Matthew Loke of the state Department of Agriculture display a number of products that are falsely billed as "Hawaiian" or as a product of Hawaii. CLICK FOR LARGE
More fake Hawaii products hitting market, officials say
Products masquerading as being from Hawaii are unfairly competing with those that really are
The bottle is labeled "Hawaiian Tropic," but nothing in it has been drawn, filtered or even purified here in the islands. It's produced by a company in Las Vegas.
There are also artificial maile lei labeled as the "Aloha Hawaii Lei," but they're made in China.
The number of products borrowing the "Hawaii" brand name has been multiplying in recent years, according to Matthew Loke, an administrator at the state Department of Agriculture who has taken it upon himself to collect these items.
The state has no dollar measure of the economic impact of products masquerading around as "Hawaii" goods, but notes that they do create competition for those that really do come from the Aloha state.
"Hawaii is such a powerful brand," said Loke. "Our brand consultants say Hawaii is the most powerful geographic brand in the world."
Take the macadamia-nut pancake and waffle mix labeled Kona Coast Hawaiian Style -- from American Canyon, Calif. There is also the bag of coconut candy from Thailand with the word "Hawaii" on the bag, featuring the ever-popular hibiscus flower.
Or the box of "Hawaii Prez" biscuit sticks from Japan which advertises "A great Hawaiian taste!" made from 10 percent real Hawaiian pineapples. That needs to be checked out, according to Loke.
Under current state law, at least 51 percent of a product must have "wholesale value" added within the state of Hawaii, whether it be through manufacturing, assembly or packaging.
That means chocolate could be shipped from Australia, but assembled and packaged here, and then considered "made in Hawaii."
"I just think it's dishonest," said Dean Okimoto, owner of Nalo Farms. "I get kind of upset when I go to the mainland and see these products. When you look at the label, it has nothing to do with Hawaii."
Greg Colden, co-owner of the Kona Natural Soap Co., says there is an allure about the islands that makes any word associated with Hawaii marketable. However, he feels that it's a misrepresentation unless there is some tangible connection.
Thus, the soap he sells is made from products grown on their farm -- from Kona coffee to cacao, citrus and papaya. The base formula is made of Hawaiian kukui nut oil, though the company also uses olive oil from Italy.
"We try to use indigenous products where appropriate," he said. "There's a sense of pride in being able to put 'Made in Hawaii' on the packaging. We believed it was important from an ethical standpoint. If we were going to call it Kona, it had to be made in Kona."
How Hawaii products should be labeled, exactly, is no new subject for the state Legislature.
The Kona coffee label has been a point of debate over the last few sessions. Now there are also bills in the state House and Senate seeking to regulate the labeling of macadamia nuts and honey.
GEORGE F. LEE / GLEE@STARBULLETIN.COM
Are these banana chips from Hawaii? Are they really Diamond Head delights? This bag supplied by officials at the state Measurement Standards Branch doesn't say where the food inside is from, though it appears to have been packaged in San Leandro, Calif. CLICK FOR LARGE
William Pierpont, manager of the state Measurement Standards Branch, says there are already federal interstate commerce laws that regulate labeling.
The federal Fair Packaging & Labeling Act, for instance, requires a label to include the identity of the product; the name and place of business of the manufacturer, packer or distributor; and the net quantity of contents.
State laws regulating labels need more clarification, said Pierpont, as well as better alignment with federal laws for the "Made in USA" label, which require at least 51 percent of starting materials to be from the United States, and are regulated by the Federal Trade Commission.
Pierpont said that when it comes to intellectual property, the lines are more blurred.
A songbook composed and written in Hawaii may be sent to a mainland publisher to be bound and printed, he noted. Would it be a product of Hawaii, given that its essence was captured here?
A team of 12 inspectors works for the department, but besides examining food labels, they also inspect commercial devices, which range from gas pumps to taxi meters.
"We don't have the resources to send inspectors out every day to check every shelf in every store," said Pierpont.
Typically, instead of fining companies for violating state labeling laws, which can be up to $2,000 per day, the branch writes a letter to the company. Pierpont said companies are usually cooperative.
Loke said the state's best weapon right now is its "Seal of Quality" program, launched in May following a 2002 legislative mandate. The seal, offered to hundreds of genuine Hawaii-grown products, according to Loke, has strict criteria.
"At this point we're using the seal of quality to compete," said Loke. "The seal of quality is a genuine, grown-in- Hawaii, made-in-Hawaii, premium product. You see a seal of quality label on a product, you can rest assured it's a good product and that the state has reviewed and certified it to be a quality product."