Fake Kona Coffee: $21 Million Settlement Hits Major Brands

Fake Kona Coffee: $21 Million Settlement Hits Major Brands

If you like Kona coffee as much as we do, this will pique your interest. It’s long been true that stores in Hawaii would sell coffee labeled Kona but were blends containing as little as 10% of the legendary bean. Also, some companies sold coffee labeled Kona that may have contained none whatsoever.

A number of companies have agreed to preliminary settlements in a class-action lawsuit filed by Kona Coffee farmers for misrepresentation. Those paying up include Kroger, Safeway/Albertsons, and Hawaiian Isles Kona Coffee Company.

The latest settlement, from a class action suit filed four years ago by the farmers, has resulted in more than $21M in relief. Also in place as a result of the lawsuit are requirements for the future labeling, marketing, and sale of any products named Kona.

Fake Kona Coffee: $21 Million Settlement Hits Major Brands

Following the latest settlement, ABC Stores is up next.

In the latest agreement, L&K Coffee/Magnum Coffee Roastery agreed to an additional $6.15M settlement in US District Court. That marks the 12th settlement in this landmark lawsuit.

At this point, it is believed that only two remaining defendants exist: Muldavi Corp, a Hawaii company selling Kona-labeled coffees, and Hawaii’s ABC stores, Muldavi’s primary retail outlet.

Laboratory testing leads to findings.

In the original settlement from 2019, lab results on testing of 19 coffees that were being sold as Kona coffee showed that there was little to no coffee in the products that emanated from Kona.

In singling out some 21 possible defendants that included both large and small companies, the Lanham Act was invoked. That is an 80-year-old trademark act that protects consumers from “false designation of origin.”

The original motion, filed in Washington district court, said, “Even though only 2.7 million pounds of authentic green Kona coffee is grown annually, over 20 million pounds of coffee labeled as ‘Kona’ is sold at retail. That is physically impossible; someone is lying about the contents of their ‘Kona’ products.”

Safeway/Albertsons agreed to injunctive labeling terms, among other things. It is required that the defendants show the actual percentage of Kona-product coffee on any product that has Kona labeling.

A smaller settlement was agreed to with Honolulu-based Hawaiian Isles Coffee Co., including an $800,000 settlement. It was also required to remove the word Kona from use in its company naming and to email its customers regarding the difference between Kona blend and 100% Kona coffees.

Additional settlements were Gold Coffee Roasters of Florida, a $6.1M money payment, and Cameron’s Coffee/Boyer’s Coffee Company, a $4.9M settlement.

Fake Kona Coffee: $21 Million Settlement Hits Major Brands
Coffee roasted by BOH editor Collin.

Hawaii coffee is a $50+ million a year value-added industry.

The industry here is made up of nearly 1,000 coffee farms on all of the islands. Hawaii coffee is considered rare overall, representing under 1/2% of worldwide coffee production.

Hawaii’s cost structure means coffee farming can’t compete with Central America or Africa. Hawaii coffees, especially Kona and Kau, are value-added, premium coffees.

If you aren’t a real coffee aficionado, none of this may matter, and just seeing the name Kona may be enough. If, however, you wish to experience something unique and, in some cases, world-class in Hawaii, that is possible. When Beat of Hawaii travels between islands, trying the local coffee from each island is a great part of the trip.

Featured image courtesy of Kona Coffee Festival, which takes place November 3-12, 2023.

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15 thoughts on “Fake Kona Coffee: $21 Million Settlement Hits Major Brands”

  1. While in Hawaii last year I purchased
    5 , 1lb bags of Kona coffee the manufacturer is Hawaaian Isles coffee ,med roast.
    All to take home to Florida.

    1
    1. For many years while living on Oahu, I purchased Hawaiian Isles Coffee as my “everyday” coffee. A pleasant tasting coffee, but nothing special. If you look on the package toward the bottom, it clearly states “10% Kona Coffee blend.” That’s why it’s inexpensive. You don’t know what other beans are mixed with it. And frankly, any coffee company, like Hawaiian Isles, that would “taint” their coffee with 27 different flavors is not a true Kona. You just don’t do that with good quality coffee. If that company produces a 100% Kona coffee, I never found it in all those years. There are other 100% Kona coffees out there, but you’ll pay a lot more.

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      1. We have been buying 100% Kona coffee from Mountain Thunder for over 10 years. No other coffees can even compete with quality and flavor. Glad to see the false claims being penalized.

        1
  2. i get my Kona coffee from a small Japanese family run farm on the BI when i visit and order several pounds during Xmas. one of those special things in life to look forward to.

    3
  3. We have for many years purchased Hawaiian Coffee for both friends and neighbors before returning home from Hawaii. Usually we try to purchase directly from the grower.

    2
  4. I am not a coffee drinker. That said, when I go to my much loved Maui, (or any island in Hawai’i), I adore a French Press of 100% Hawai’i grown coffee. I buy from local growers where I know what I’m getting and its costs accordingly. I even always have my French Press with me on my Hawai’i vacations! Most of what I have bought in recent years is Maui grown, but I had a really lovely 100% Kona at Big Island Candies, and the Hawaiian coffees offered at Mama’s Fish House in French press are sublime.

    3
  5. While I love 100% Kona coffee, it’s very expensive. My 2 favorite Hawaiian coffees are MauiGrown Mokka and Kauai Coffee Plantation Acaia. I brought back 3 pounds of Mokka and order Kauai Plantation direct.

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  6. I only bought Kona coffee once and it was not special enough to pay $20 for 1/2 pound…I think that is where the price is these days? I do buy Maui coffee, but now prefer coffee from Kuaui …you can order it on Amazon for less than $10 and it’s pretty good!

  7. So, the farmers were scammed and will rightly get compensated for this. That is fair and good.
    However, as a regular traveler to Maui I have always purchased Kona coffee, I thought, while staying on the islands. I also brought home 2-3 bags each year. I also know of many who did about the same over the 40 years I have been going to Hawaii.
    Is there a class action suit pending by the actual buyers against the defendants? Thanks.

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  8. I’ve never really been a fan of Kona coffee. More than likely due to blends of other coffees with it and that it’s more hype than flavor. Living on the Big Island, I make a point of getting Ka’u coffee which I think is superior to Kona coffee.

    10
    1. Agreed. Kona coffee is overrated. What’s worth is the mix they are selling at ABC …10% Kona coffee and nobody knows where the other 90% come from ….many of those brands are pretty bad!

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