Proposed coffee labeling bill moves from House to Senate committees for hearing

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After 12 years of pushing for stricter coffee labeling laws, Rep. Nicole Lowen is finally seeing traction this year in the State Legislature with her House bill that outlines a phased approach to increasing the amount of locally grown coffee in products required for a Hawai‘i-grown label.

On March 7, House Bill 2298 passed the House with amendments and was referred to the Commerce and Consumer Protection and Judiciary Senate committees for a hearing.

The bill would make it a violation of coffee labeling law to use a geographic origin, such as “Kona”, “Ka‘ū” or “Kaua‘i,” in labeling or advertising for roasted coffee, instant coffee, or ready-to-drink coffee beverage blends that contain less than a certain percentage of coffee by weight from that geographic origin.

A hearing date has not yet been set. If none is scheduled before March 21 the bill dies.

“For more than 30 years Hawai‘i has been the only region in the world to authorize the use of its regional names on packages of one of its specialty agricultural crops with only 10% genuine content,” said Bruce Corker with Rancho Aloha Coffee Farm in Hōlualoa. “The marketing of these 10% blends damages the economic interest of Hawai‘i farmers and deceives consumers.”

Lowen, who represents Kailua-Kona, Honokōhau, Kalaoa, Pu‘uanahulu, Puakō, and a portion of Waikōloa, introduced the original bill at the beginning of session. She said stricter coffee labeling laws have been presented to the legislature for the past 30 years.


“We’ve gotten really close to passing something but it got watered down to a study last year,” Lowen said, adding the results of that study showed stricter labeling would benefit farmers financially and protect the brand.

According to the measure, existing law allows coffee blends that contain only very small amounts of coffee beans from these distinctive regions to use the name of those regions on product packaging, a practice that deceives consumers and harms coffee growers.

“Currently, farmers who built and preserve the reputation of Hawai‘i-grown coffee are unfairly forced to compete with fake products, often priced below their own cost of production,” said Christopher A. Manfredi, Government Affairs Coordinator for the Hawai‘i Coffee Association.

As it stands, Lowen said she doesn’t like the amendments made to her original bill, which increased the amount of locally grown coffee required for regional labeling to 51% by June 30, 2026, and up to 100% by July 1, 2027.

Amendments to the House bill included increasing the required percentage of coffee for labeling in the region to 50% phased in over 9 years.


“That is completely unsupportable as to why,” Lowen said.

Manfredi said the Hawai‘i Coffee Association supports the bill to the extent that they want it to keep moving.

“We’d rather it be supported than killed,” he said. “I’d be happier with the old version. This version is a compromise.”

Manfredi said they will make their case in the Senate to return the bill to its previous version, but they want people to support the intent of the bill, nonetheless.

Kona coffee is a gourmet product. Manfredi said: “By diluting it down it’s not a good strategy.”


The Retail Merchants of Hawai‘i testified during House committee meetings opposing HB 2298, saying locally grown coffee, like Kona coffee, is already one of the most expensive beans in the world.

“To mandate that in a couple of years, 100% of the coffee used must come from local beans to be called Kona or Kaua‘i coffee as an example would drive the price per bag up significantly,” the group stated. “The average businesses, visitors and locals may stop carrying or purchasing bags if the locally grown coffee becomes too expensive.”

Manfredi disagrees with this assessment saying raw coffee imported to the state and blended with local coffee commonly sells for less than $2 per pound. It artificially increases the supply of premium coffee and lowers the price.

These foreign-grown blends are then priced many times higher than the commodity coffee that comprises 90% of the blend; often selling for more than $20 per pound solely because of the Hawaii origin name.

A typical bag of Hawaii-grown coffee can cost from $25 to $80 and even higher.

Tiffany DeMasters
Tiffany DeMasters is a full-time reporter for Pacific Media Group. Tiffany worked as the cops and courts reporter for West Hawaii Today from 2017 to 2019. She also contributed stories to Ke Ola Magazine and Honolulu Civil Beat.

Tiffany can be reached at [email protected].
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