Categorized | Agriculture, Featured

Farming with Love: Analysis of local, imported produce

Special to Hawaii 24/7 by Ken Love

For the second year in a row I’ve looked at, and counted, weekly produce advertising data from West Hawaii Today. Below is a comparison of the number of locally grown fruit and vegetables against the number of imported fruit and vegetables.

Once again Choice Mart leads the pack with 250 local items and 423 imported items advertised. KTA promoted 214 local items and 502 imported items. Foodland advertised 211 local items, but a whopping 851 imported produce items, many of which, like avocado and mango, compete directly with Hawaiian growers. Safeway ran ads for 96 local items and 603 imported items.

All of these represent an increase of advertised produce from Sept. 2008 to Sept. 2009 ads.

1. Choice Mart; 2. KTA; 3. Foodland; 4. Safeway

Choice Mart (year followed by number of produce items advertised)
Local Produce vs. imported produce
2009: 235 vs. 477
2010: 250 vs. 423

There were a few times during the year where Choice Mart “only” advertised locally grown produce. In the ads this is represented by the word “local” typed over the picture of each item. The grocery store continues to sell only local avocados and no imports. The only time they sell imported bananas or mangos is off-season when locally grown are not available.

KTA (year followed by number of produce items advertised)
Local Produce vs. imported produce
2009: 234 vs. 536
2010: 214 vs. 502

It’s sad to see KTA’s reduction of ads for local produce although its ratio of local to imports, from 2009 to 2010, is about the same. The store will use locally grown logos or island fresh logos in its ads. They could do much much better and perhaps should hire an island wide produce coordinator to arrange with farmers to buy fresh and local.

Foodland / Sack N Save (year followed by number of produce items advertised)
Local Produce vs. imported produce
2009: 177 vs. 682
2010: 211 vs. 851

Although Foodland advertised more local produce this year and advertised to buy local, the reality of what they do is significantly different. The tremendous increase in advertising of imported avocados and mangos during Hawaii’s prime seasons is shameful. In part this is due to their buying wholesale from Armstrong who has not listed locally grown avocados or, more recently, mangos on their price list. As a Hawaiian company Foodland should be called on the carpet my consumers and told to do much better. Even with unusual fruit like Tamarillo, which is plentiful at local markets, Foodland sells imports from New Zealand. Could they accumulate any greater numbers of food miles? They need to wake up and do better.

Safeway (year followed by number of produce items advertised)
Local Produce vs. imported produce
2009: 71 vs. 589
2010: 96 vs. 603

Safeway’s terrible ratio of local to imports is to be expected for a large national chain but they should be willing to do better. They import and sell huge numbers of avocados, mangos and citrus that competes directly with Hawaiian growers. Safeway did advertise local Sharwil avocados for only one week, Jan. 6-12, and local oranges for two weeks, once Feb. 10-16 and again March 24-30. This is a welcome change from the previous year, but clearly they could do much more.

I still find it ironic Foodland / Sack N Save and Safeway do most of the advertising for buy local and supporting local farmers yet they don’t do it. The numbers just don’t add up. Focusing on one farmer or one commodity for one week out of one year is not sustainable by any definition.

All of the grocery stores are dependent on produce wholesalers more than they are dependent on small farmers and small wholesalers who tend to specialize in restaurants. Herein lie many of the problems that need to be solved in order to build markets and awareness for locally grown produce.

As mentioned above, Armstrong the largest produce wholesaler in the state does not sell local avocados at all and sells imported mangos to compete with Hawaiian mangos during our peak season. Armstrong does sell some local produce like bananas. On its July 26 wholesale price list they sold Hawaiian apple bananas for $45.90 for a 35-pound case while imported bananas were $38.25 for a 40-pound case. Imported Hass avocado from Chile sold for $59.15 a case or $2.60 a pound. They sell avocados for $2.60 a pound to the same stores who will not pay local growers $1.00 a pound.

That’s wrong with that picture? Well, the stores that pay $2.60 for the Hass sell them for $3.99 a profit of $1.39 a pound. These stores that also buy local avocados for 60¢ to 80¢ a pound. So at 80¢ a pound the avocados are sold retail at $1.49 for a profit of 69¢ a pound. So, which would you rather make, $1.39 or 69¢? This is the type of difference that needs to be equalized.

Local produce deserves the same considerations as imported produce and the growers deserve a fair profit based on real cost of production. The minimum a grower should receive for quality grown and harvested known varieties of avocado is $1 a pound. $1.25 a pound would be better and even more fair and more in keeping with what it actually costs to grow and market the fruit. There are no more excuses to pay less although grocery stores say that if they keep the cost low they will sell more.

If that was the case why in stores like KTA and Foodland are the imported avocados featured up front in their own display while our local fruit is usually relegated to the back corner? The answer is simple, profit. They still make more from the imports than the locally grown fruit.

Again, on the July 26 Armstrong Produce wholesale price list, the company sold imported limes, mango, hearts of palm, ti leaves, lime leaf, lemon grass, lemons, (three types, all imported) lemon leaf, orange and Chinese taro. It also sold ginger from China and Hawaii.

The four types of pineapples and the papaya on its wholesale list did not indicate they are locally grown as they do with other fruit. The USDA Agriculture Statistic Service shows papaya, pineapple and bananas are, unbelievably, still imported into Hawaii! This, along with the imported ginger and taro needs to stop. There are no more excuses.

The fact that we still import unbelievable amounts of tomato, lettuce, peppers and corn into Hawaii, is simple unconscionable. We can grow all that is needed and more. The wholesalers like Armstrong and grocers like Foodland and Safeway have an obligation to the communities they serve and they are not fulfilling them simply by providing a few minimum wage jobs.

Although inroads have been made for increased sales of locally grown produce, we are far from any form of agricultural sustainability in Hawaii. We can only hope a change in state leadership on Oahu and a more equitable county council on the Big Island will help lead the way.

(Farming with Love is a semi-regular column by Kona resident Ken Love, a specialist in tropical fruit horticulture and market development. Love works on sustainability issues for Hawaii farmers, value-added product development and farmer-chef relations. Contact Love at kenlove@kona.net)

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