Kwanchai Lerttanapunyaporn / Eye/Getty Images

A new lawsuit from Hawaiian Kona producers suggests mislabeling is rampant.

Mike Pomranz
Updated March 08, 2019

Food fraud isn’t just annoying; it also appears to be annoyingly common. Sure, if someone labels beef as chicken, most people will know the difference. But how many people can determine if a cut of Kobe beef is actually what it purports to be? Of course, some may argue that if you can’t tell the difference, why are you paying a premium? Well, besides the fact that mislabeling food is fraud, it’s not just consumers that get hurt. Hard working farmers are also having their businesses undercut when the market is flooded with fake products.

Hawaiian coffee farmers in the Kona District have launched a class action lawsuit against some of the largest retailers in the country for that exact reason. Walmart, Costco, Amazon, Safeway, and Kroger are among the sellers and producers of 19 brands of coffee that have been named in the complaint, which was filed on February 27, according to The National Law Review. The farmers are accusing these companies of selling coffee with a “false designation of origin,” labeling the coffee as Kona despite containing little to no Kona beans at all.

Though the growers cite broad evidence that 20 million pounds of coffee labeled as Kona is sold each year despite the district only producing 2.7 million pounds of actual Kona coffee, these farmers also say they are armed with analytical testing proving that the labels are incorrect. “The problem has always been determining what was actually in a particular bag as that information has been concealed from the Kona farmers,” the lawsuit says according to West Hawaii Today. “Modern chemistry can now provide answers to that question.”

Continued testing could also lead to more defendants being added, the complaint reportedly states. The coffee producers that were named in the suit were said to be Hawaiian Isles Kona Coffee, Mulvadi Corp., Maui Coffee Co., Boyer’s Coffee Co., Magnum Coffee Roastery, Copper Moon Coffee, Gold Coffee Roasters, and Cameron’s Coffee and Distribution Co.

Kona “blends” that aren’t 100 percent Kona are relatively common. However, as Modern Farmer explains, in Hawaii, these blends are required by law to be at least 10 percent Kona beans and must list the percentage on the bag. This law isn’t applicable to other parts of the country, but clearly zero percent of Kona won’t cut it.

Meanwhile, another lawsuit may be on the horizon. West Hawaii Today also reports that the law firm behind the current suit plans to file a class-action suit on behalf of consumers who have purchased these allegedly fake Kona coffee beans. So hopefully you saved all your Kona bean receipts!