Manoa Chocolate – Photo courtesy Manoa Chocolate / Mana Up
Food-loving travelers dreaming of a trip to Hawaii have more options than ever to sample some island-made foods like chocolate, coffee, spices, rum, and more without leaving home.
Over the years, many small Hawaiian food companies have relied primarily on the business of tourists buying their products on vacation. As a result, most of the owners saw no need to build an online presence.
However, during the COVID pandemic, the islands experienced the lowest tourism in years, and many of these sole proprietorships made some big changes to bring their products to a wider audience. They improved their websites, updated packaging, introduced new products, and made shipping to customers easier overall.
They are currently opening up new markets and increasing sales through creativity and e-commerce. Now that tourism is returning, they are growing even faster.
In addition, some of these locally based businesses have fortunately seen a big boom and continued support from Mana Up, a nationwide business accelerator program that helps Hawaiian product companies grow and reach new customers – in Hawaii and around the world.
Brittany Heyd, co-founder of Mana Up, says she has seen these companies thrive. She said, “Hawaii is becoming a hotbed for consumer product innovation. In the past few years we’ve seen the ecosystem explode. We see a lot of collaboration with farmers, agriculture, and new and different types of food coming onto the market. “
She continued: We have seen companies double and triple in the last year because they started investing in e-commerce. It is really incredible. Also, the customer base has shifted as people are interested in trying out new brands online. “
Keloa Rum Company
Koloa Rum Shop – Photo courtesy of Koloa Rum
One of the local businesses that has seen a surge in growth recently is the Kōloa Rum Company, based in Kauai. Kōloa Rum is available online and in thirty US states and opened in Kalāheo in 2009 as the island’s first licensed distillery. They produce handcrafted Hawaiian single-batch rum made from locally grown sugar cane, filtered rainwater, and quality island ingredients.
During the pandemic, Kōloa Rum relocated operations and produced hand sanitizers for local businesses. Bob Gunter, President and CEO, said, “Our online sales increased 193% in 2020 compared to 2019. The sale of hand disinfectants made a measurable contribution to this. However, we recorded growth in all product groups. “
Visitors to Kauai can visit the company’s tasting room and company store and enjoy a selection of their premium rums, including white, gold, dark, spice, coconut, coffee, and matured varieties. The company is committed to sustainable agriculture, the promotion of local employment and the preservation of open spaces.
Gunter continued, “We believe that it is important for visitors to experience authentic Hawaiian products as they are truly unique and one of a kind. The resources found in Hawaii are different from those found anywhere in the world … and by incorporating these elements, the products become a special representation of the valued Hawaiian culture and people who stand behind the products. “
Big Island coffee roaster
Big Island Coffee Roasters – Photo courtesy of Big Island Coffee Roasters / Mana Up
Since Hawaii is one of only two US states that can grow coffee beans, Java fans have the opportunity to sample local, authentic coffee through Big Island Coffee Roasters, a company that creates a range of styles and flavors by building solid partnerships created with farmers around the world, Puna (on the island of Hawaii) and beyond.
In addition to their remarkable coffees, they also developed “Espresso Bites” and “Edible Coffees”, a product that is reminiscent of gourmet chocolate bars – and tastes just as delicious.
Big Island Coffee Roasters produces true Hawaiian coffees made from a variety of different, locally grown beans with varying flavor profiles. They also go the extra mile, paying their local farmers around 40 to 60% of the retail cost of their coffee products. Because they have so many neighboring farms, there is no need for intermediaries such as exporters or freight forwarders.
Kelleigh Stewart, co-owner of Big Island Coffee Roasters, says, “On the Big Island we are vertically integrated and close to the source. Most coffees travel across the oceans in barges before ending up at a warehouse and finally a roastery. We drive to the neighboring farm, pick up ‘parchment’ (green coffee), grind it in small batches and roast it to order. So from the customer’s point of view, it is incredibly fresh and flavorful. “
Manoa Chocolate – Photo courtesy Manoa Chocolate / Mana Up
Chocolate lovers can also enjoy a taste of the islands, as Hawaii is one of the few US states that can successfully grow cocoa commercially due to its tropical climate. As a result, Manoa Chocolate, launched by founder and chocolate maker Dylan Butterbaugh over a decade ago, is now creating bean-to-bar indulgence for avid enthusiasts who appreciate the company’s commitment to sustainability.
In addition to the company’s high-quality dark chocolate, Manoa also produces some “Flavors of Hawaii” bars that contain notes of Liliko’i, passion fruit and coconut. All candy bars have a detailed description of where the beans come from in Hawaii, as well as clear tasting notes on the packaging (with suggestions for wine, spirits, and beer).
Most importantly, this company is committed to fair trade and socially acceptable prices in working with cocoa farmers around the world.
Heyd explained, “For these companies, it’s not about money – it’s about a higher mission and about achieving something much bigger. Take the coffee and chocolate companies, for example, who are developing a whole agribusiness here, working with the farmers and the community, and making products that really are the best in the world. Sometimes we call them our “best kept secrets” because the quality is incredible and the sourcing and collaboration with farmers is really impressive. “
Liko Lehua Butters
Liko Lehua Butters – Photo courtesy Link Lehua Butters / Mana Up
There are a myriad of other notable and unique Hawaiian food companies that make authentic products that can be purchased online. They can be found on the islands, including Liko Lehua, a small maker of exceptionally delicious homemade butter with colorful, tropical flavors inspired by fruits of Hawaii such as mango, pineapple and guava.
The company is run by native Hawaiian entrepreneur Dawn Kleinfelder and her husband Matt, who own a popular café of the same name in Hilo, Hawaii’s Big Island. The company’s name honors the Lehuahaine who grew up on their great-great-grandmother’s land many years ago – and the butters are versions of family recipes from generations past.
Manele Spice Co.
Malele Spice Co. – Photo courtesy Manele Spice Co. / Mana Up
Another company based on the island is Manele Spice Co., which makes a range of inventive salt and spice blends from Hawaiian ocean rock salt combined with a variety of natural ingredients. It is owned by award-winning chef Adam Tabura, who grew up on Lanai Island. He is a cookbook author who has appeared on the Food Network several times, including “Cutthroat Kitchen” and most recently winner of the “Great Food Truck Race”.
Chef Adam created Manele Spice Co. to capture the distinctive flavors of Hawaii in easy-to-use salt mixes so that home cooks can buy these spices online and add some Hawaii-inspired flavor to their own creations. The spices can be purchased online individually or in gift packages.
Once mainland consumers get a literal “taste” of these unique products while learning more about the people behind the scenes who make these products, Heyd says these companies begin to attract a loyal following, which promotes economic diversification.
She says, “When people learn about the great things these small businesses are doing, it helps the companies accomplish their mission of improving quality and continuing to find local sourcing and support our farmers – it’s a really special one These businesses have a process and an advantage for our community. “
With all of these Hawaii-made products available for purchase online, consumers who want to relive their vacation (or share some of these delicacies with their friends and family) can easily order and access products online.
And for visitors who eventually find themselves in Hawaii, there is a new brick and mortar retail store, House of Mana Up in Waikiki, where many of these Hawaiian-made foods (and other products) can be sampled and bought by entrepreneurs and bought together in one store.