WAIKIKI -- It started 18 years ago with about a handful of businesses and a desire make local products more readily available to Hawaii's military community.

Since then, the American Logistics Association (ALA) Hawaii Show and Conference has grown to encompass nearly 70 local vendors showcasing hundreds of products made in Hawaii, distributed in Hawaii or unique to Hawaii -- everything from barbecue sauce and kimchee to sea asparagus and sweetbread -- even dog treats.

- A win-win

Among those on hand to celebrate the 2015 ALA Hawaii Show and Conference on Tuesday, Aug. 18, at the Hawaii Prince Hotel were retired U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka, Assistant Secretary of the Army (Manpower & Reserve Affairs) Debra Wada, as well as representatives from the offices of U.S. Sens. Mazie Hirono and Brian Schatz, and the offices of U.S. Reps. Tulsi Gabbard and Mark Takai.

Akaka, a World War II veteran who served on the Senate Armed Services Committee, described working with Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA) officials over the years to increase the amount of Hawaii products that made it to commissary shelves. He helped put together the first ALA Hawaii Trade Show in 1997 and has been supporting it ever since.

Watching it grow and knowing that commissaries worldwide stock Hawaii products has made him happy, he said.

"It was good for our vendors, farmers, commissaries and good for (military) families," he said. "It gave them the option for more food, Hawaiian food. I always felt that Hawaii could be a model for many things, and I feel this is a model for commissaries."

- Building on success

Akaka said, that to him, the local seafood, in particular, captured the flavor of Hawaii, but for years it wasn't available in Hawaii's commissaries, and thus wasn't available to a segment of Hawaii's military community.

Through efforts, such as the ALA Hawaii Show, all four of Hawaii's commissaries now have seafood counters that are not only stocked by Hawaii companies, but run by a Hawaii company.

"There's no way a government buyer would understand the dynamics of Hawaii's seafood market, and that's why we had to bring in an expert," said ALA President Patrick Nixon. "Now Diamond Head Seafood runs the seafood counters (in Hawaii's commissaries) and is probably the premiere seafood business in the islands. It's just a great (success) story."

"Our goal is to provide the best service at the best price and at the best quality for all of our service members," said Mike Irish, CEO of Diamond Head Seafood Company. "We are not out there serving our country, but we can serve their families."

For every Diamond Head Seafood Company, there are dozens of other smaller local companies working to get a piece of the approximately $250 million in annual sales generated by Hawaii's four commissaries.

Vanessa Kaslow, co-owner of Da Kine enterprises, has two of her barbecue sauces and a set of her company's rib rubs available at Hawaii's commissaries, but there are at least eight more products that she'd like to have placed. Meeting the commissaries' demand is not a problem, she said. The challenge is getting more products on the shelves.

She brought all 11 of her company's products with her to the Aug. 18 show.

"The commissary is our No. 1 market," said Dan Kaslow, sales director and head chef of Da Kine Enterprises. "They're looking for something familiar, but different. What we've done is we took a mainland product -- barbecue sauce -- and made it local by replacing the water with pineapple juice."

- Going Global

Da Kine Enterprises also holds regular demonstrations and offers samples at Hawaii's commissaries as a way to build up its military customer base, the Kaslows said.

Doing so is a probably a smart strategy because DeCA is a worldwide enterprise that caters to the global consumer. Service members move frequently, and when they acquire a taste for a certain product at one commissary, they may request that it be stocked at another commissary.

Nixon has a theory about this.

"I think Hawaii changes your taste and eating habits," he said. "There's a different snack market here."

This could give Hawaii companies an edge when military families move from Hawaii to, say, Texas, and have a hankering for some made-in-Hawaii treats that can't be replicated by what's available in the Lone Star State.

"I was just in Japan and the commissaries there had Mauna Loa macadamia nut products and Hawaiian Sun Juices," said Keith Hagenbuch, DeCA's executive director of store operations. "At the commissaries in Virginia, you can get Hawaii coffee that you can't get in the regular grocery stores."

In this way, Hawaii companies could move from taking a piece of the $250 million in annual sales generated by Hawaii's commissaries and on to taking a piece of the approximately $6 billion in annual sales generated by commissaries worldwide.

- What is ALA?

The American Logistics Association (ALA) Hawaii Show and Conference is a trade show that connects Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA) buyers with Hawaii companies.

The ALA is a nonprofit trade association representing those who do business or who are interested in doing business with the military resale industry (including commissaries).

DeCA buyers decide which new items to add for sale in commissaries.

- Hawaii's four commissaries
Marine Corps Base Hawaii, Kaneohe Bay Commissary
Hickam Air Force Base Commissary
Pearl Harbor Commissary
Schofield Barracks Commissary

- ALA Hawaii Show by the Numbers
Year ALA Hawaii Show began: 1997
Number of companies that participated in 1997: 14
Number of companies that participated this year: 68
Number of companies that participated for the first time this year: 18
Number of Hawaii-based brands found in commissaries: 247
Amount of Hawaii-based products purchased by Hawaii commissaries last year: $8 million
Amount of Hawaii-based produce purchased by Hawaii commissaries last year: $6.5 million
(Note: Numbers provided by ALA Hawaii and DeCA.)

- Gone Global
The following Hawaii companies are now available at commissaries worldwide:
Hawaiian Host Chocolates
Hawaiian Isles Kona Coffee
Hawaiian Sun Juices
Kona Red Drinks
Mauna Loa Chocolates
Oils of Aloha
Royal Kona Coffee