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Susan Kang Sunderland

O, Poi!

Crowning Kalo

Self-reliance and sustainability are familiar Tottori themes.

“If you’re going to perpetuate poi, supply is always going to be a concern,” admits Craig. “That’s why we partner with local farmers to cultivate taro for the best yield and quality. Supply of poi had been declining. First, we had to shore up the supply. Now, we can turn our sights to sales and marketing.”

Ernest observes, “In any business, it’s about supply and demand. Poi is a luxury item, in a sense, subject to fluctuating supply.”

Craig adds, “But now that we are able to buy whatever farmers produce and share knowledge with them about higher yields, we are more confident of meeting demand.”

An HPC marketing plan calls for increased brand visibility in print media and e-commerce. Ads herald the nutritional benefits of poi with its fat-free, hypoallergenic, vitamin-rich qualities.

New product development will roll out premium frozen poi for the Mainland market and convenient 16-ounce combo packs of poi and lomi lomi salmon. The frozen poi in 16-ounce bags easily can be reconstituted by thawing and microwaving to bring back the fresh, sweet taste of poi. Ex-pats with the onos for island poi will love it.

Sprouting Growth

In addition to poi, HPC produces the state’s largest supply of freshly grown sprouts and cut fruits and vegetables under the Taro Brand label. Some 60,000 pounds of sprouts are cultivated in-house every week. Varieties include soy, mung bean, clover, broccoli and radish sprouts. A current ad campaign reminds consumers of the health benefits of sprouts, a rich source of vitamins, nutrients and antioxidants. Fresh-cut produce sold statewide also includes Taro Brand chop suey mix, salad mix, and celery and carrot sticks.

The transition to vegetable and food distribution spurred a corporate identity change in 1990 from Honolulu Poi Company to HPC Food Ltd., according to Craig, a finance major who was educated at Iolani, Moanalua High and University of Hawaii.

“This change symbolizes a commitment to continued growth and diversification in the food industry,” he says.

Asked the biggest operational opportunity for the company, Craig and Michelle touted the major investment and commitment to food safety.

Driven by consumer and supplier concerns, industry disciplines must carefully address handling, preparation and storage of food to prevent food-borne illnesses. HPC Foods has responded by establishing an in-house quality assurance department and laboratory to do product testing so that all procedures are traceable. It proudly points to its Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) Certification as proof of meeting and exceeding industry standards.

Poi Posterity

Finally, we ask HPC leaders to wax philosophical about poi, Hawaii’s soul food. It is cultural cuisine for islanders, yet a mysterious pale-gray paste for visitors. Like Rodney Danger-field, it still gets no respect. Even the GEICO gecko refers to poi in a current commercial: “Poi … whatever that is.”

Patriarch Ernest observes, “Commercial luaus need to teach visitors how to eat poi. As a stand-alone staple, it might not appeal to people’s taste. It’s like eating raw fish for the first time.”

“Even the young generation needs to be educated about poi,” adds daughter-in-law Michelle. “Our grab-and-go combo pack of poi and lomi salmon – at 190 calories – could be the crossover product.”

She adds: “It is Hawaiian cuisine, but it is a health food, too. With consumers becoming more health-conscious and looking for foods made with fresh, natural ingredients, poi has a huge potential.”

Well, there you have it. The kamaaina family that has sustained poi production – never veering off course even when foreign taro invaded the market – says the future of poi is to stick with it.

Like its consistency, once you put your fingers into poi, don’t lose a drop of it, savor it and taste the goodness it brings. Remember the good times at luaus and family gatherings when Hawaiian food brings people together in a spirit of aloha.

Then and only then will you have a proper poispective.

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