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Kona coffee, Safeway tiff stirs up class-action suit

By Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 09:17 a.m. HST, Sep 16, 2011

 Star-Advertiser  Safeway has agreed to respond to the Kona Coffee Farmers Association by Sept. 1 on whether the store will make any changes to its Kona coffee label. Coffee from Hawaii, the only place in the U.S. where it is grown, must be specially labeled.

A spat involving Safeway and Hawaii-grown coffee growers is still brewing, even after the supermarket giant agreed to change labeling on its Kona blend coffee.

A $5 million class-action lawsuit was filed in federal court in Northern California claiming Safeway profited off the reputation of Kona coffee while selling an inferior product with very little Hawaii-grown coffee.

The lawsuit was filed Aug. 30, a day before Safeway's letter informing the Kona Coffee Farmers Association the company would change its packaging to reflect the percentage of Kona it contains. The farmers had called for a boycott of Safeway's 1,700 stores nationwide after a farmer saw the Kona blend for sale in a California store.

In an effort to protect a world-famous Hawaii product, the state's Board of Agriculture Chairman Russell Kokubun sent a letter to Safeway officials asking them to comply with a law here requiring labels to specify the percentage of Hawaii-grown coffee included in the blend. The law requires those blends have at least 10 percent Hawaii-grown coffee. But because Safeway's Kona blend isn't sold in any of the 19 Hawaii locations, Kokubun could only ask for voluntary compliance.

The farmers' battle inspired the class-action lawsuit, said Janet Lindner Spielberg, a Los Angeles attorney representing the plaintiffs. "It affects their livelihoods and how their product is viewed in the world," she said Thursday in a phone interview.

Coffee drinker Chanee Thurston of Benicia, Calif., is the only plaintiff named in the lawsuit, which is also on behalf of consumers who purchased the Safeway Select Kona Blend since Aug. 30, 2007.

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M75 wrote:
OH BOY!! Here we go again round 2 of this kona coffee battle even though safeway agree to drop the kona coffie label on it's coffee products it's going to be Ugly that's for sure.
on September 16,2011 | 04:16AM
akuman808 wrote:
Classic example of what a frivilous lawsuit is. There is no federal law requiring the percentage of Kona outside of Hawaii. When is making a profit against the law? AS for the new wave of Kona farmers who are behind this huhu, they have done an absolutely dismal job promoting and selling their coffee in the mainland. None of these farmers private label brand coffee can be found in any store. Many of the cuttings that now are their coffee trees came from Brazil, Guatamala, El Salvador and Columbia.
on September 16,2011 | 10:49AM
droid wrote:
Is this a joke? Kona coffee is one of the most prized blends in the world! Safeway would not even bothered to TRY marketing it on the mainland if that weren’t the case. Why waste money on marketing when the coffee sells itself? The Big Island does not have enough acreage to compete with South America. What you advocate would only cheapen the product. Hats off to this woman for for having the courage to take on a national chain. As for suit’s merit, you should understand the point of suing is often not to win, but to ensure action is taken. If you read the article, you would realize Safeway didn’t change their policy until after the suit was filed.
on September 16,2011 | 01:18PM
Manoa2 wrote:
It has always been against the law to profit at the expense of the rights of others and through a form of fraud. I think you would have an entirely different view of this if you were a Kona coffee farmer.
on September 16,2011 | 06:38PM
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