For customers of Hawaii’s commissaries, buying local is getting easier and easier. Commissaries around the Hawaiian Islands and beyond are stocking the shelves with local products.
At the annual American Logistics Agency (ALA) Hawaii Expo, local businesses have the opportunity to showcase their unique products to military buyers. In the two decades of expos, many Hawaiian foods and products have already made their way to military consumers.
Military buyers are looking for unique items at these shows.
“I’m not looking for what I already have,” said Brad McMinn, director of the Schofield Barracks Commissary.
Local Companies, Big Opportunities
Diamond Head Seafoods, owned by Hawaiian local and military veteran Mike Irish, has been working with the Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA) for 20 years. From a small start with just a few products, Irish has progressed to running the seafood counters around Hawaii.
“I thought they didn’t like my products,” he admitted. “But I just kept trying. The second year they took five products, the third year nine or 10. As they got to know who I was and learned that I was committed to the commissaries, they grew more committed to my products and company.”
Currently, military shoppers can also find Irish’s sauces and condiments in commissaries on the mainland.
Thomas Kerwin of Aloha Gourmet also hopes to expand his product line in Hawaiian commissaries. This year, he brought cookies, coconut shreds and dried mangoes dipped in chocolate.
“We come to this show every year to showcase our items and meet with the buyers,” he said in this news article. “We may not get all of the products we show onto shelves, but even if it’s just one or two, that’s enough.”
Other companies are looking to break into the military market.
“We believe, given the opportunity, the military community will support us and this product,” Mike Choy, co-owner of Ilio Products, commented. “They’re part of the community and they care about Hawaii and environmental issues. A part of our proceeds goes to organizations that support our coastlines.”
Choy brought an all natural, human grade line of venison dog treats, Go Go Pet’s Stressless Venison Premium Treats, to the expo. The dog treats are made from local deer on Maui, Molokai and Lanai. Deer live on these islands without any natural predators, leading to overpopulation. Culling the deer helps keep the populations in check. Turning the meat into dog treats avoids waste.
“Our goal is to get our message out about how different and special (this product) is,” Choy said. “We’ve already thought about maybe having demos at (military exchanges and commissaries) or having an informational video run next to the product display.”
Possibility to Expand Beyond Hawaii
Choy and other vendors have a good chance of having products picked up by commissaries and exchanges on O’ahu. According to a report by Hawaii News Now, over 350 products were selected at the 2016 expo. Of these, 27 products were from companies that have not previously worked with DeCA. Fifteen new companies and 200 new items were added to the combined military exchanges.
Over the last two decades, almost 3,000 local products have made their way to military consumers at the commissaries and exchanges.
The ALA works with DeCA and the exchange systems throughout the military to help place and promote their members’ businesses and products. Given this large network, products have the possibility of expanding to stores worldwide.
“(T)housands of products have been marketed at the Hawaii show. Many of them are sold throughout the commissary network worldwide,” said U.S. Senator Mazie Hirono.
If you are looking for local products at your commissary or exchange, ask an associate. Often they can help direct you to these products. Many commissaries and exchanges also have a section featuring local products. Take the time to browse this section the next time you are at the commissary.