Hawaii vendors vie for Commissary, Soldier business
October 31, 2013
HONOLULU (Oct. 25, 2013) -- The coordinated opportunity for local Hawaii businesses to have their products sold in Hawaii military commissaries first sprang to life in 1997, and is now in full-flower, as evidenced Oct. 16, as military representatives met with local vendors during the 16th annual American Logistics Association (ALA) Hawaii Show.
The show began 16 years ago with six to 10 local vendors, and now features 80 local companies displaying their goods, with a waiting list of additional Hawaii-based companies that are eager to pay the $495 fee to display their wares.
Defense Commissary Agency buyers use the show to choose new products that best satisfy commissary shoppers.
Schofield Commissary Store Director Gregory McGruder toured the packed and bustling aisles of the show, and searched for new Hawaii-based products to carry.
"This (show) is really important," said McGruder moments after testing one vendor's microwavable chili-mac that left the sampler impressed. As a 40-year veteran of the Defense Commissary Agency, or DeCA, he felt single Soldiers would welcome the sampled product.
That type of decision making was central to the process in determining what eventually would merit commissary shelf space.
McGruder aggressively endorsed fostering relationships with local companies through incentives and customer-oriented promotions and has a dedicated area for Hawaii products at the Schofield commissary.
"The amount of space we reserve (in the commissary) for Hawaii products is considerable," he said.
McGruder was one of an estimated 45 government buyers who touched, smelled and tasted local products, ranging from bakery goods to health and beauty products.
This incorporation of local goods into military commissaries has become an increasingly big business, worth an estimated $40 million annually to the local economy, including $19 million in direct commissary sales, according to show organizers.
"We love working with the military and supporting military families," said Michael Irish, chief executive officer, Diamond Head Seafood Company.
Irish estimates the military commissaries account for 20-25 percent of his company's business, which includes delivery of more than 500 pounds of fresh seafood daily to the military.
And he hopes for a bigger slice of the pie, so to speak.
Irish's company this year purchased the Makiki Bake Shop, and now he is expanding the bakery and working to place a line of bakery goods into commissaries. The bakeshop goods were in prominent display during the show at the Hawaii Prince Hotel and received positive reviews from prospective buyers on hand.
Decisions about product purchases will be made in the coming days and weeks, but there was no doubt the buying and selling process was in motion during the six-hour show, with buyers, including McGruder, busy interviewing and taking notes.
"Local companies have the opportunity to meet one-on-one with key military decision makers," said Sharon Zambo-Fan, show coordinator. "That is important."
The ALA also works with prospective companies by providing marketing classes to prepare companies to work within the commissary system and instructs how to meet DeCA requirements.
The results have been impressive. Last year, 169 new items found commissary shelf space, and that included 11 new companies that had never previously done business with DeCA.
Farm produce alone, accounting for $5 million in sales, provides income to more than an estimated 100 local farms throughout the state.
"Hawaii has small, family-run businesses with unique flavors," said Zambo-Fan, "and this show gives small businesses an opportunity to do business with the government."