Food show infuses commissaries with local products, flavors
August 28, 2009
WAIKIKI, Hawaii - The aroma of savory pork and chicken katsu cooking joined the smells wafting through the Hawaii Prince Hotel, here, during the 12th Annual American Logistics Association (ALA) Hawaii Food Show, Aug. 20.
Eighty-one local companies met one-on-one with key Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA) and military exchange buyers, to market Hawaii-made products representing a significant economic opportunity for those present.
"We (produce) the May's and Hawaii Gourmet brands," said Kevin Oguma, sales account executive, Palama Meats, while cooking up the sizzling chicken and pork katsu in skillets. The company also sells items such as teri-burgers and other local delicacies.
May's brand Hawaiian-style pork and chicken katsu were just one of 158 new items DeCA selected from the show to begin stocking on commissary shelves.
To help make their selections, DeCA buyers, like Vicki Sliwicki, smelled, tasted and touched products grown, produced or distributed in Hawaii during the show, which stretched from morning to early afternoon. She said she was "looking for something unique and in demand."
The company So Ono Fresh! caught the attention of buyers with a rainbow display of cut fruits and vegetables. Among its offerings were bite-size pieces of carrots, grapes and strawberries.
Hawaii commissaries routinely stock more than 100 varieties of locally grown fruits and vegetables and a total of more than 2,000 local grocery items.
Since the first ALA Hawaii Food Show, DeCA has added more than 1,400 Hawaii items from local manufacturers and vendors to the commissary system. Some of those products are now sold in commissaries worldwide.
For the nine new companies selected by DeCA this year, it means more business. For the military families shopping in commissaries, it means more selection.
Companies found out within a few days which products were selected for inclusion in the commissary system and how to improve if they were not chosen.
Some of the products selected this year included the following: sweet bread and taro sweet bread from Gold Coin Food Industries; more varieties of crack seed and candy; gift packs for the holidays of coffees, candy and lip balms from Oils of Aloha; Pink Salt from J.L. Inc. DBA Herb Land; Curry Sauces from India CafAfA; Natural Fruit Sorbets from Island Way; reusable insulated bags from Tropical Paper Garden; and Italian Ice from La Gelateria.
For some companies, the show represented an expansion of existing product lines and for others it was their first experience selling in the commissary system.
Some 27 companies participated in the food show for the first time, including Chef Elmer's Seafood Sauces, Coffees of Hawaii, India CafAfA, Uncle Louie Sausage Company, and Hawaii Gourmet Cookies.
"We're a small company. Having our sauces in the commissary makes us bigger and gives to the military community," Chef Elmer Guzman said as he served up creamy ahi poke and seafood beignet flavored with his sauces.
Land of Organica owners Janet and Ryan Costello dished out their organic sorbet in flavors such as nutty mango, which is currently sold in pints at commissaries.
"We're supporting local farmers," Janet said. "Families appreciate being able to see our product."
Troy Hatakenaka and Deanne Ho from Jade Foods, said they've exhibited at the show for the past three years. The company's Hawaii-manufactured, Chinese-style preserved fruit products made it into the commissary system on the second try.
Ho said that having its products in the commissaries has helped the business thrive during current economic times.
"We did not have to layoff (employees) during the downturn. In fact, we hired part-timers," Ho said.
Sharon Zambo-Fan, ALA chairwoman, said the event is part of a great business relationship between the community and military patrons.
"Every company is here under one roof," Zambo-Fan said.
"There are a lot of new items out there for customers," said Susan Sturgeon-Campbell, store director, Schofield Barracks commissary.
As a government agency, DeCA tries to produce a better mix of products including ones addressing health and the environment, said Phil Sakowitz Jr., chief executive officer and director, DeCA.
"Local manufacturers here in Hawaii have done very well," said Sakowitz.
In addition, Deputy Under Secretary of Defense Tommy T. Thomas said the products in commissaries represent many cultural backgrounds and give the military a taste of home.
The ALA is a voluntary, nonprofit organization of manufacturers, their representatives, brokers, distributors, publishers and other companies that sell or provide products and services to the military.