For ALA Website from the Honolulu Star Advertiser, Crave section.
By Erika Engle
July 12, 2016
Local food manufacturers wondering how industry colleagues get their products into Hawaii military commissaries and exchanges need wonder no more.
The 19th annual American Logistics Association Military Food Show and the Defense Commissary Agency Network Briefing are mere weeks away, Aug. 16 and 17, but a few spaces are still available.
Ala Military Food Show And Deca Network Briefing
Place: Hawaii Prince Hotel
Dates: Aug. 16-17
Booth cost: $695; sign up by Tuesday
Over the show’s history, some 2,452 made-in-Hawaii products have been added to commissary shelves, said ALA show coordinator Sharon Zambo-Fan.
Buyers for the military exchanges also attend the annual exposition and have added 15 local companies and 300 new items to their selections.
From local commissaries and exchanges, Hawaii products have the opportunity to expand distribution to Alaska, the Far East and Europe, Zambo-Fan said.
Out of last year’s show, 185 new items were chosen for commissaries across Oahu, including products from 10 companies that had never before done business with the commissaries.
The show was established by former U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka as a way to connect Hawaii’s small businesses with the American Logistics Association, she said, and is the only such event in the country.
At the Hawaii show each year, about 70 companies set up booths and offer samples of 20 to 50 items. It’s a routine with which Mike Irish is familiar, as an early attendee of the show back when it was staged at Turtle Bay Resort.
Back then neither buyers nor sellers knew what to expect. “It was pretty intimidating, and it wasn’t like how it is today,” Irish said.
The buyers were “very serious military people … very strict and by the book, while we in Hawaii are kind of laid-back.”
In those early days buyers would pick up two or three of the 15 to 20 products offered, he said.
“Fast-forward 15 or 16 years and now everybody’s on a first-name basis, they’re as local as we are,” Irish said. “They understand the products and the people. … It’s more casual and relaxed; nobody’s on pins and needles.”
Irish owns a handful of Hawaii food companies that produce kim chee under brand names including Kohala, Halm’s and HiMax, among many other products. His Hawaiian Pride-brand liquid sauces are now available at all West Coast commissaries. Winning a spot in Oahu’s four military commissaries led to “doors opening for broader distribution,” he said.
Local products expose military families to made-in-Hawaii products during the time they are stationed here, Irish said. “We’re kind of giving the military even a better deal than Costco, at the smaller package size. It gives the military a tremendous edge in feeding their families.”
The products are also available to 50,000 to 75,000 retired military on Oahu who shop on base, he said.
Vendors who apply for booth space at the show must supply descriptions of their products, and can zero in on certain buyers “so you can make sure they taste the products that you want them to taste,” Irish said.
Many vendors go straight from the ALA Show to Blaisdell Center for the annual Made in Hawaii Festival, Aug. 19-21. Retail buyers sample the wares at Blaisdell before the public is allowed in for three days of nonstop selling and talking story.