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Hawaii companies hope to extend their reach and revenue

By Erika Engle

LAST UPDATED: 2:26 p.m. HST, Aug 5, 2011

Local manufacturers hope to get their products into Hawaii's military commissaries and exchanges through the annual American Logistics Association Hawaii Food Show Aug. 17 at the Hawaii Prince Hotel.

Eighty-one local vendors, some new, many returning, will display their wares to about 50 buyers from the Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA) from Fort Lee, Va., the western region buying office in Sacramento, Calif., and to Hawaii-based buyers for the military base exchanges and store managers, said Sharon Zambo-Fan, ALA show coordinator. The show costs Hawaii exhibitors $425 for a booth, but the fee includes seminars and training classes that also are available to vendors who are wait-listed.

Hawaii's commissaries stock a wide range of local products, including coffee, macadamia nuts, cookies, soft drinks, seasonings, dressings, jams and jellies and fresh products including refrigerated Asian grocery items such as tofu, kim chee, noodles and various fishcake products. Some of those are among the 211 products selected from the nearly 1,000 products presented at last year's show. Since the first ALA show in 1998, DeCA has picked up more than 1,782 Hawaii-made products, some of which are now sold in commissaries worldwide.

Hawaii companies will pitch their products today, and "on Friday all the vendors will meet one on one with the buyers," said Zambo-Fan. "At that time" they will be informed whether their products have been picked up for sale. For first-time vendors the next step is the contracting process, which can take anywhere from 90 days to six months from start to finish, but Zambo-Fan's office will have worked with the vendors to ensure that all the required paperwork is in place and has been filled out properly.

Buyers are "first and foremost buying for Hawaii," Zambo-Fan said. But a local vendor's product might prove to be "a product that can sell beyond Hawaii" if it does well at commissaries in the state, she said.

"If I were that company (that wants to sell beyond the state), I'd want to understand the business and how it works and use Hawaii as my training ground" before expanding to other commissaries and exchanges beyond isle shores, Zambo-Fan said.

In some commissaries the Hawaii-made products that were interspersed among national brands got moved into a separate section devoted to Hawaii-made products. Sales increased "significantly" after the change, said Mark Honda, marketing official for Hawaiian Sun soft drinks, at a recent state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism workshop.

The timing of this year's ALA show was adjusted to coincide with the Made in Hawaii Festival, which runs Aug. 19 to 21 at the Neal S. Blaisdell Center.

Having the two events close together helps neighbor island companies get more bang for their travel buck.

ALA show buyers will be attending the Made in Hawaii Festival Aug. 21, which could benefit vendors who haven't yet made it into the ALA show, Zambo-Fan said.

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