Kona coffee dispute prompts class-action lawsuit

Court Watch Posted on

A spat involving Safeway and Hawaii 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.

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