Retailers Sued for Selling Coffee Under ‘Kona’ Name

March 4, 2019, 8:33 AM HST (Updated March 5, 2019, 1:20 PM)
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Some Kona coffee farmers are suing Amazon, Walmart, Costco, Safeway, Kroger and others for violating federal law by selling coffee under the name “Kona.”

The case was filed Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019, in federal court in Seattle as class-action litigation intended to benefit the estimated 600 to 1,000 growers of Kona coffee on the Big Island.

By using the name on other coffee, the farmers say, the retailers have violated the federal Lanham Act and its ban on false designations of origin.

“The term ‘Kona’ tells consumers their coffee comes from this distinctive geographic region,” the farmers wrote. “Defendants’ deceptive practices have flooded the market with counterfeit ‘Kona’ coffee products, injuring honest Kona farmers.”

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“Just as only sparkling wine originating from the Champagne region of France can be sold as ‘Champagne,’ only coffee grown in the Kona District can be sold as Kona coffee,” the farmers said in the lawsuit.

According to the lawsuit, only 2.7 million pounds of coffee is grown in the Kona region each year, but more than 20 million pounds of coffee is labeled with the name.

“First, the marketplace is overwhelmed with counterfeit ‘Kona’ products, and that excessive supply drives the price down sharply,” the farmers wrote in their complaint. “Second, the counterfeit products taste like run-of-the-mill commodity coffee, causing consumers to erroneously conclude that Kona coffee is nothing special.”

“Kona coffee, typically grown by small farmers and harvested by hand, commands premium prices. A 7-ounce bag can cost $25,” according to West Hawai‘i Today. “By comparison, a larger 12-ounce bag of Colombian coffee can cost $7.”

The plaintiffs, Melanie Bondera, Cecelia Smith, Bruce Corker, Robert Smith and Colehour Bondera, are represented by Nathan T. Paine, Mark A. Bailey, Paul Richard Brown and Daniel T. Hagen of Karr Tuttle Campbell.

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