Changing Hawaii

By Diane Yukihiro Chang

Monday, April 5, 1999

Hawaii’s milk is
way too expensive

MY kiddo hates going to the supermarket with me because of a steadfast idiosyncrasy that really bugs her: I only buy stuff that's on sale. So unless it is a special occasion or an emergency craving, most of the items in my trusty grocery cart are discounted, if only by a few pennies.

This quest for bargains holds true for everything -- fresh produce, canned goods, bakery delicacies, meat and poultry, you name it.

Got Milked? Everything, that is, except milk. Because the popular dairy product just never seemed to drop below $5 a gallon. And like other life-long residents of Hawaii, I had grown accustomed to its dear cost.

I would be robotic in front of the dairy case, automatically reaching for my favorite carton and never glancing at the price. The expense was merely an unspoken bane of living in the islands.

Until last Friday, when Star-Bulletin reporter Rob Perez disclosed the huge disparity between milk charges here and on the mainland in an eye-opening front-page story titled, "Got milked?" It was enough to curdle your fondness for the creamy white liquid. Or shall we call it white gold?

This state has the highest milk prices in the nation, according to a survey of 42 selected markets. In 1998, the average price per gallon in Honolulu was $5.44. The next highest was Seattle, at $3.08, followed by Denver, at $2.99. That's more than two dollars cheaper than in Hawaii!

Of course, the supermarket chains and state officials ha-rumpf at any talk of highway robbery. They say that local prices are fair considering the proverbial "high cost of doing business here."

That's no consolation to consumers, especially when comparable milk tabs at small neighborhood grocers like Waianae Store and members-only warehouses like Sam's Club in Pearl City are below the $4-per-gallon mark.

And you know what THAT means. "No one (but Hawaii) pays over $5 a gallon," Elisa Odabashian, a consumer analyst based in San Francisco told Rob Perez. "That's amazing. That's gouging."

THAT does it. No more will I succumb to temporary insanity in front of the dairy case. I'm going to be lucid, pay attention to prices and do my grocery shopping where milk is the cheapest. After all, the four-letter word is a necessity while other purchases aren't. Besides, there are sale items in every store.

Here's another reason we should all be incensed at the too high toll of anything in Hawaii, whether milk, gasoline, airline tickets or housing: The money "overspent" by the people of Hawaii means less money we can give to charitable causes, both here and abroad.

Just think, expendable income could be earmarked for so many worthwhile endeavors -- helping the homeless in Hawaii or scores of ethnic Albanians being driven out of Kosovo. Instead of being able to bankroll such good deeds, however, every single piece of our paychecks must be utilized for basic living costs and staples, such as a lousy carton of milk.

Egads, it's enough to make you want to moo-ve.

Diane Yukihiro Chang's column runs Monday and Friday.
She can be reached by phone at 525-8607, via e-mail at, or by fax at 523-7863.

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