Lawsuit Filed Against Hawaii Retailers In Kona Coffee Labeling Dispute

Jul 31, 2019

HILO, Hawaii — Hawaii coffee farmers have filed a lawsuit against major retailers after scientific tests confirm Kona coffee is mislabeled as authentic.

West Hawaii Today reported Tuesday that three Kona coffee farmers say chemical tests completed in May reveal coffee products labeled as Kona are not what they say.

Owners of Rancho Aloha, Kanalani Ohana Farm and Smithfarm contend the coffee beans' flavor comes from volcanic soil on Hawaii island and scientific tests can isolate the unique chemicals.

Farmers say not only are products mislabeled, but more than 20 million pounds of Kona-labeled coffee is sold when only 2.7 million pounds are grown annually. 

Walmart, Safeway and Costco are among the 21 retailers being sued, the newspaper said. Producers including Hawaiian Isles Kona Coffee Ltd. are also among those named in the suit.

The coffee supplier defendants say there's no law prohibiting them from labeling coffee as Kona if it is sold out of state.

The lawsuit is scheduled for trial on Nov. 2, 2020 in U.S. District Court in Seattle, the newspaper said.

Earlier this year, Hawaii coffee farmers failed to win additional protections for their crop at the state Legislature. Coffee beans and grounds can be marketed as Hawaii-grown if they contain at least 10 percent coffee from a coffee-growing area in the state.

An effort to have lawmakers raise that minimum to 51 percent fell short. Coffee distributors oppose the idea, arguing it would raise the price of Hawaii-grown coffee beyond what consumers would be willing to pay.

HPR News Staff contributed to this report.