Wednesday, June 16, 1999

Fruit dealer
buys Sure Save
distribution center

A court also approves
the chain's $250,000 loan

By Rod Thompson
Big Island correspondent


KEAAU, Hawaii -- Aloha Hawaii Enterprises, a new company which will distribute and market fruit and other Hawaii products outside the state, announced it has bought the Sure Save Market distribution center south of Hilo.

Aloha Hawaii hopes eventually to market a variety of Hawaii products from coffee to beer, said company president and chief executive Richard Nelson.

The firm shipped 5,000 pounds of papayas to Chicago on Monday, Nelson said.

Sure Save last week filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and said it was selling its distribution center in Keaau.

Sure Save president Carl Okuyama said the $4 million transaction is now in escrow.

Meanwhile, federal bankruptcy Judge Lloyd King yesterday approved a $250,000 interest-free loan to be made by the Okuyama family to the company. Okuyama said the money will be used to restock shelves at the company's 10 stores, noticeably bare for months.

The company was ordered to submit preliminary restructuring plans within five days. According to court documents, Sure Save's biggest creditor is Hawaii Electric Light Co, owed $1.1 million.

The 39,000-square-foot distribution center already has a number of tenants, including Pepsi Cola. The large freezer and refrigeration facility will allow storage of other products, and the ample space will be used for a food research-and-development kitchen and laboratory to create new products, Nelson said.

Nelson is a commercial orchid grower with several years of experience in transporting Hawaii products to the mainland.

Both Nelson and Aloha Hawaii Chairman Alec Keith are associated with food irradiation.

Nelson was an organizing force behind the effort that narrowly defeated a ballot initiative last year to ban a food irradiator on the island.

Keith, a retired biophysics professor from Pennsylvania State University, is chairman of Gray Star Inc., a New Jersey company planning to build food irradiators which will use cesium-137 as the radiation source.

Despite Keith's affiliation, Aloha Hawaii has no intention of using a Gray Star irradiator, Nelson said.

It is too controversial because the radioactive cesium salt can dissolve in water, he said. Nelson also noted two other companies already are planning irradiators on the Big Island, one using metallic cobalt-60 and the other using electron-beam-generated X-rays.

But Aloha Hawaii will use irradiation to kill fruit flies in Hawaii fruit, he said.

The papayas shipped to Chicago on Monday were to be irradiated at an Isomedix facility outside that city, where the state of Hawaii has been helping Big Island farmers send small but growing quantities of fruit for treatment for several years.

The beneficiaries will be small farmers, Nelson said.

"Our company will give the small farmer the ability to distribute their products nationwide and go where the consumers live," he said.

Aloha Hawaii also has 500 acres of papayas and plans to expand to 1,000 acres, he said.

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