In the 1970’s and 80’s, Hawai`i’s sugar industry gradually succumbed to international competition. By 1994, Hamakua Sugar Company and Ka`u Agribusiness, the last remaining sugar plantations on the Island of Hawai`i, conducted their final harvests. Tears flowed as lei-decked cane haul trucks drove through the old towns of Honoka`a and Pahala one last time. Unemployment increased alarmingly as the century-old era of sugar finally came to an end.
The times called for economic transformation and diversification and the local and family-owned supermarket business, KTA Super Stores, assigned Executive Vice President, Derek Kurisu to lead this effort. Twelve years earlier, the late Tony Taniguchi, then President of KTA Super Stores, instructed Derek to start thinking about KTA’s role in an island economy soon to be shaken by the demise of the sugar industry. This thought was almost unthinkable in the early 1980’s. Derek recalls thinking that sugar “would go on forever,” but Tony had the presence of mind to see the inevitable.
Today, KTA recognizes there is more at stake than simply identifying new economics to succeed sugar. There are concerns for diversifying the island’s agricultures, and for preserving green space and the easy going aloha spirit and rural lifestyle of Hawai`i Island. Most of all, there is concern for the stalled mobility of the people of Hawai`i.
KTA strongly supports the concept of grown-in Hawai`i foods and believes it offers local pride and sustainability to build on. To these themes, it adds the Hawaiian value of lokahi, or working together, and the Japanese principle of kaizen, or continuously striving for improvement. Thus, the response to the above was KTA’s Mountain Apple Brand® label. This vision encapsulated in the “Mountain Apple” name itself. The mountain apple or `ohi`a-`ai, was one of the twenty-four “canoe plants” brought to Hawai`i by Polynesian voyagers 1,500 years ago. Like taro, coconut, breadfruit, bananas, sugar, bamboo and other island staples, the mountain apple was fundamental to the sustenance of the Polynesian culture newly transplanted to Hawai`i.
The Mountain Apple Brand® label consists of food products grown, processed or manufactured in Hawai`i. These products are priced competitively and their standards for quality are exceedingly high. KTA recognizes that Hawai`i shoppers will embrace these products if the quality, availability and price compare favorably to established mainland known brands.
The first Mountain Apple Brand® product, island fresh milk, was introduced in 1992. Since then, the Mountain Apple Brand® product line has grown. Today, some fifty plus local vendors supply over two hundred different Mountain Apple Brand® food products to KTA Super Stores on Hawai`i Island.
These products range from fresh milk and eggs, range fed beef and island lamb to fresh breads, cookies, coffee and desserts. Mountain Apple Brand® also offers fresh island bananas, Waimea fresh vegetables, beans sprouts and an assortment of pre-cut salads and vacuum-packed vegetables. An ever-growing inventory of unique ethnic food preparations include dried and smoked fish, poi, boiled peanuts, tofu, Japanese “koko” pickled cabbage, ogo and seaweed. The roster of Mountain Apple Brand® products, suppliers and vendors has grown over the years and represents the diversity of Hawai`i’s people, cultures and ethnic foods.