Class Action Settlement Affirms Kona Coffee Strictly Hawaiian
March 20 - 2021
Coffee Geography Magazine
For years, roasters mainly from other states put Kona Coffee label on their products without demonstrating it is from that region of Hawaii. Taxonomically classified as “species Arabica sub-species Typica” or more commonly known as Arabica Typica Kona coffee is world renown as a top quality coffee. Kona coffee beans appear as a waxy bluish-green color in its unroasted state. Roasted, the beans are enjoyably smooth to the palate, having a mildly acidic flavor. Kona Coffee is grown on the Big Island of Hawaii, along the western slopes of Mauna Loa and Hualalai. Hundreds of coffee farmers from one to hundreds of acres in size produce a total of about 2,000,000 pounds of Kona Coffee in it’s green (unroasted) form.
The complaint from the coffee farmers presented the results of laboratory testing on 19 different coffee products that were marketed and sold as Kona coffee but allegedly contained little or no coffee produced in Kona. The plaintiffs, comprising various coffee farm and estate owners from the Kona region say the suit is designed to prevent false labeling of coffee products while protecting the quality association that consumers have with Kona.
“Even though nearly 3 million pounds (1.36 million kg) of authentic green Kona coffee is grown annually, over 20 million pounds (9.09 million kg) of coffee labeled as ‘Kona’ is sold at retail,” the suit, filed at the State of Washingtondistrict court, states. “That is physically impossible; someone is lying about the contents of their ‘Kona’ products.”
700 farmers now eligible to receive the first settlement payments in a federal class action lawsuit filed against 22 big-name retailers and roasters. The growers would receive roughly $14,000 apiece which is less significant than commitments from 11 of the companies to abide by new rules to use the Kona label.
Roasters must say on their packages what portion of the blends is Kona bean where rich volcanic soil, tropical sunshine and gentle pacific breezes give the coffee its distinctive flavor and refrain from using the Kona label at all if that figure does not meet a minimum threshold set by Hawaiian law. Currently roasters have to set a minimum of 10% if it is roasted in the State of Hawaii but that law is hard to enforce in other states or countries. However, the growers are satisfied so far by the settlement just to have the label to be used properly without counterfeit beans as Kona.
Roasted Kona beans is sold just above $30 a pound when farmers sell them directly to consumers. With the name recognition, the farmers hope the settlement raises that price to $40. Some of the world’s ultra high-end coffees retail for more than a $100 a pound.
The plaintiffs have invoked the Lanham Act, a 1946 U.S. trademark act designed to protect from “false designation of origin” in the sale of consumer products. In the current settlements, Gold Coffee Roasters located in Florida agreed to pay $6.1 million followed by the cash settlements from Minnesota-based Cameron’sCoffee for $4.9 million. Boyer’s Coffee Company for just over $1.125 million; Copper Moon Coffee for $360,000 and CostPlus/World Market for $200,000.
Costcoand TJX (including Marshalls and T.J. Maxx), have settled with the plaintiffs, agreeing to more stringent labeling and marketing requirements. The lawsuit is still ongoing, with numerous other large defendants currently involved in litigation ahead of a trial. Other defendants include Walmart, Amazon, Kroger, Bed Bath& Beyond, and Safeway. None of these defendants have acknowledged any wrongdoing.
The coffee plantations was initially introduced by missionaries in the 1820s to Hawaii. The Hawaiian Islands are an archipelago of eight major islands, several atolls, numerous smaller islets, and seamounts in the North Pacific Ocean, extending some 1,500 miles (2,400 kilometers) from the island of Hawaiʻi in the south to northernmost Kure Atoll. Formerly the group was known to Europeans and Americans as the Sandwich Islands, a name that James Cook chose in honor of the then First Lord of the Admiralty John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich. Cook came across the islands by chance when crossing the Pacific Ocean on his Third Voyage, on board HMS Resolution; he was later killed on the islands on a return visit.
The climate of the Hawaiian Islands is tropical but it experiences many different climates, depending on altitude and weather. The islands receive most rainfall from the trade winds on their north and east flanks as a result of orographic precipitation. Coastal areas in general and especially the south and west flanks or leeward sides, tend to be drier.
In general, the lowlands of Hawaiian Islands receive most of their precipitation during the winter months (October to April). Drier conditions generally prevail from May to September.[ The tropical storms, and occasional hurricanes, tend to occur from July through November.
During the summer months the average temperature is about 84 °F (29 °C), in the winter months it is approximately 78,8 °F (26°C). As the temperature is relatively constant over the year the probability of dangerous thunderstorms is approximately low.
In 1825, King Kamehameha II, Queen Kamalumalu, the Governor General of Oahu Chief Bogi, and others formed a delegation from the Hawaii Islands and ventured to London. It was there that they first tasted coffee. Unfortunately it was also in London where the King and Queen contracted measles and died. Chief Bogi returned to the Hawaiian Islands aboard a British battleship, bringing with him the bodies of the King and Queen. En route to the Islands, the Chief made a stop at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where he obtained the coffee trees that spawned Kona Coffee.
Upon his return, Chief Bogi handed the trees over to an ex-West Indies settler, John Wilkinson, who planted them on the Chief’s land in Manoa Valley on Oahu. Unfortunately, during his lifetime, Wilkinson was unable to successfully cultivate the tree for production of its fruits. In 1828, Father Samuel Lugress took coffee trees with him from Manoa Valley to Kona, on the Island of Hawaii, planting them in his yard simply for viewing pleasure.
The Kona region provides an ideal environment for coffee cultivation. The region where most of the coffee farms are concentrated commonly referred to as the “coffee belt,” runs along Mamalahoa Highway which cuts across the slopes of Hualalai and Mauna Loa from 300 to 800 meters above sea level.