Fest gives small guys a big boost


POSTED: Saturday, August 22, 2009

Coco Bayley, owner of Kauai Nut Roasters, already supplies more than 60 neighbor island stores with the exotic sugar and fire-roasted nuts that she produces at her Hanalei-based business.

The chance to bring the idea before thousands of Oahu consumers and buyers enticed Bayley to be one of the more than 500 businesses playing let's make a deal yesterday at the Made in Hawaii Festival, she said.

“;We're ready,”; Bayley said, as she passed out samples of her ono-tropical spice macadamia ginger mix. “;We've had some really favorable meetings with buyers. The exposure has just been great.”;

The festival, which will run through tomorrow at Neal S. Blaisdell Exhibition Hall and Arena, is expected to generate more than $1.5 million in sales and $10 million in residual sales, said Richard Botti, president of the Made in Hawaii Festival Association.

For the thousands of buyers that need to stock everything from hotels to grocery stores, corporations and smaller boutiques and businesses, the 14-year-old event is a place for one-stop shopping and to reconnect with clients, Botti said. For the festival's exhibitors, especially the smaller mom-and-pop operations, it might be the only way to get a product before buyers from outside their region, he said. Others use it as a low-cost way to market and test products, Botti said.

“;Under normal circumstances it's impossible for most of these businesses to get an appointment to see a buyer,”; he said.

“;Most small to midsized businesses are short on time and resources, and buyers are notoriously busy.”;

» Dates: Today, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; tomorrow, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
        » Where: Neal S. Blaisdell Exhibition Hall and Arena
        » Admission: $3, free for children 6 and younger
        » Information: www.madeinhawaiifestival.com or 533-1292.

Jimmy Chan, general manager and owner of Hawaiian Chip Co., has been bringing his taro and sweet potato chips to the festival for the past eight years because it's a venture that pays off.

“;At least 25 percent of my business growth is related to this festival,”; said Chan, who was taste-testing a new product, Kilauea Fire Hot & Spicy Barbecue Sauce, based on a combination of flavors found in his chips. “;I got my very first wholesale accounts at this festival, and as a result last year, I was able to open a warehouse on Nimitz Highway.”;

Ellie Salazar, owner of Tutu's Pantry, was one of the many buyers scooping up Chan's samples.

Salazar wants to stock her Hawaiian goodies food store with products like Chan's barbecue sauce and coffee from the Aikane Plantation in Kau on the Big Island, she said.

“;I opened Tutu's Pantry 2 1/2 months ago to help support Maui's economy,”; Salazar said. “;I sell primarily to visitors who are looking for items that are made in Hawaii.”;

Buyer June Freiwald from the Pacific Whale Foundation said she flew into Oahu from Maui yesterday to look for organic and local food items and handcrafted products, mostly with an ocean or Hawaiian theme.

“;If you sit back and just buy from whoever comes to see you, your store will look like everyone else's store,”; Freiwald said. “;It's important to constantly look for ways to reinvent your merchandise, especially in a down economy.”;

Bigger buyers were at the festival, too. Wal-Mart and Costco were among those looking for new partnerships, said Indulge Hawaii President Byron Goo.

Both chains expressed interest in Indulge Hawaii's newest offering, the first bottled tea made with all-natural stevia, Goo said.

“;Our new drink is doing very well,”; Goo said, adding that about 5 percent to 10 percent of Indulge Hawaii's growth each year is festival-related.