Hawaii products need protection from fakes
The marketplace is seeing a flood of products falsely claiming links to Hawaii.
NOT everything marketed with the state's name or its native people originates here. Hawaii's cachet has long been misappropriated for products
from fruit punch to colorful shirts.
While it is impossible to prevent such misuse, state authorities should identify genuine local products more aggressively, particularly when the stakes are high. Premium goods, such as Kona coffee and other agricultural products that have strong commercial value and are significant to Hawaii's economy, should be protected vigorously.
As the Star-Bulletin's Nina Wu reports, goods associated with the islands have deep consumer appeal. In fact, consultants say "Hawaii is the most powerful geographic brand in the world," according to Matthew Loke, an agriculture department administrator.
Thousands of outside businesses take advantage of that power, slapping "Hawaii" or "Hawaiian" on candy, nuts and other foods. Aloha shirts, once unique, have been reformulated into "Hawaiian" shirts, a generic piece of casual clothing whose characteristics are generally splashy colors and a loose fit. Non-Hawaii businesses often capitalize upon the success of an authentic product, such as Maui potato chips or Kona coffee.
For local companies that have worked hard to create a market for their products, the counterfeits undercut their profits and damage their reputations.
However, the state's ability to control labeling and product names is limited. Though there are laws meant to protect the brand, legislators need to clarify them so they are better aligned with federal laws, as officials suggest.
Loke says the best way to counter impostors is the state's "Seal of Quality" program, started last year. To display the stamp, products must meet strict standards. The seal's value, however, might not be known to consumers, so an education program also is necessary. In addition, the seals attesting authenticity also should say that products without it should be suspect despite claims to an island connection.
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