Kona coffee growers boiling over Ironman’s Guatemalan beans
Everyone who thinks "Kona" upon hearing "Ironman Triathlon," please raise your hand.
Now take that hand and smack it across the face of the Kona coffee farmer nearest you.
Such a slap was felt up and down the coffee-growing ahupuaa of Kona late Monday with the announcement that the official coffee brand of Ironman is Ironman Organic Coffee -- from Guatemala. Area residents are preparing for the triathlon and the Nov. 2 Kona Coffee Cultural Festival.
Ironman Organic Coffee was created by Ironman athletes Chris McCrary and brothers Carlos and Andres Caicedo under the corporate name Bunnu LLC, headquartered in California. The coffee is licensed by Ironman Triathlon, whose Florida-based parent company is World Triathlon Corp.
Ironman's statement said the trio, "realized the need for creating an 'ideal' coffee after noticing the market was limited." It will be served at the Ironman Village and at Lava Java, on Alii Drive.
The Kona Coffee Farmers Association was "outraged by the insult," it said in a statement.
"Kona coffee is one of the two grand cru coffees of the world," said President Ken Sheppard. Jamaica Blue Mountain is the other. "Kona has always supported the Ironman contest and its athletes. Kona people will not react well to this."
The Kona Coffee Council, the other industry organization, is also unhappy.
"To me, it's like us going to the Tour de France and being served California champagne," said Donna Woolley, president.
Both Woolley and Christine Sheppard, public relations chairwoman for the farmers association, said they have no objection to Ironman linking with Guatemalan coffee, but it is the introduction of the coffee in Kona has raised ire and caused indignation.
"The issue, is that they're bringing it into a coffee growing community who has always given Ironman their support. That's why I consider it a slap in the face," Woolley said.
"If they'd had Ironman coffee all along, I don't think there would be quite the uproar," she said, "but having them bring it on board for the first time in Kona is like, what are they thinking?"
Woolley didn't see how Ironman would be able to correct the "very distasteful" situation.
Ironman Communications Director Blair LaHaye told TheBuzz she would have better information following an afternoon marketing meeting, after which she said, "The timing may not have been ideal from certain perspectives, but just from Ironman's perspective, the reason we chose to make the announcement relative to this new coffee, is that Ironman is a worldwide brand with 45 events around the globe. And while this event obviously does take place in Kona ... this is a world championship with international scope."
Also yesterday afternoon, KCFA President Ken Sheppard went to Ironman headquarters to express concerns, but was turned away.
"He was told they were all in a meeting with representatives of the Kona Coffee industry," said Christine, his wife. "He said he is the representative of a 150-farmer organization, but they wouldn't let him in."
It is premature to identify the organic growers from Kona and elsewhere on the Big Island who were in the meeting, or to announce the local product launch, LaHaye said.
"We certainly apologize to those who did not see this timing as ideal," she said.
"That being said, this is a ... growing brand within the Ironman partners and while this is not a Kona-specific product, we're looking forward to hopefully, in the near future, (introducing) a special blend that has a tie to Kona."
is a reporter with the Star-Bulletin. Call 529-4747, 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: email@example.com