"I never heard that," says KTA meat department supervisor Neki Kauhi. Walk into Sure Save or KTA and you'll find pork in all forms, including, at KTA, bones only, or just plain fat (a laulau must) for 57 cents a pound, packaged neatly in rows of foam trays.
"What people are buying are ready-to-eat items or oven-ready corn beef to take back home to the other islands. Usually it's the seafood stuff, fish and poke, that people want," Kauhi said.
At Hilo Fish Co., a wholesale fish supplier, office supervisor Cathy Moon said sales in dried seafood items such as smoked opelu and marlin, jump as much as 10 to 15 percent. For fresh seafood, she said, the demand is even greater.
"It gets kind of hectic and stressful. We have a lot of deliveries going out to the stores."
Business doubles at Suisan Co., according to sales manager and fish buyer Steve Corpuz. Suisan, which operates a fish auction and wholesale and retail operations, began taking pre-orders Monday for "Merrie Monarch Specials" of dried opelu at $6.99 a pound, marlin jerky at $5.99 for 4 ounces and ahi jerky at $6.99 for 4 ounces.
The effects of Merrie Monarch can even be felt in Kona, where dried seafood wholesaler Kiyoshi Nakamura of Kiyo's Enterprises says, "I do about 50 percent more business during Merrie Monarch. It's a must for us."
Kiyo's Hilo clientele include Sure Save, KTA and Costco. Through his small, ohana operation, Nakamura usually sells about 300 pounds of smoked marlin and opelu per week, as well as ahi when it's affordable.
He doesn't jack up prices in spite of the demand. "We try to keep prices reasonable by not hiring outside the family. We work hard and sometimes there's pressure, and we're not supposed to have pressure (on the Big Island). Like, one week before the Merrie Monarch, if it's not sunny we're in trouble because it takes about two days for the fish to dry."
And even after all the years the Merrie Monarch festival has been staged, some are still occasionally caught off guard.
At Sure Save Kaiko'o, seafood supervisor Van Uemura said, "I was just thinking of calling Kiyo this morning.
At his store, ahi poke is running about $11 a pound, with five kinds available; tako poke is running $7.49 per pound; and marlin poke is $6.99 a pound.
"When less fish is on the market, the price of fish goes up so our prices have to go up," Uemura says apologetically. "Fish has been hard to get recently so we're scrambling."