ALA Food Show celebrates 20 years of success

June Namba, Diamond Bakery, serves products to a judge.

Story and photos by Randy Dela Cruz

Over the years, the American Logistics Association (ALA) Hawaii Food Show has grown into the number one venue for local vendors to audition their items to Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA) and Military Exchange buyers for a chance to reach customers in the island’s commissaries.

As the show celebrated its 20th anniversary Aug. 15, the popularity of the event still holds true as 70 vendors converged at the Pacific Beach Hotel in Waikiki to display, cook and serve their unique and delicious products to be judged for entry into a marketplace that has the potential to go worldwide.

“It’s been a tremendous opportunity and that it’s also a snapshot of what the potential is outside of Hawaii,” said James Chan, owner of Hawaiian Chip Company. “For us, we’re a local company. We tried to sell our products on the mainland, but it takes so much education. The commissary gives us a profile of whether our products match the demand.”

Doreen Kuroda and Rich Hayasaka at the Island Princess booth.

Chan, who entered the commissary market three years ago with his Kilauea Fire Hot Sauce, returned to audition another versatile condiment called Kilauea Hawaiian Ketchup.

“We’d like to push the ketchup into the commissary now because that’s really moving,” Chan said about the spicy new sauce that goes well with hotdogs, burgers and a whole lot more. “We get a fair amount of military at our location at Hawaiian Chip Company because we have a Kilauea Fire sign on Nimitz. On any given Friday, half of our customers are there in uniform.”

Chan’s enthusiasm for his association with the commissary is universally echoed by every one of the 70 venders at this year’s show.

The feeling is mutual for the commissary and their customers, and the relationship is strongly supported by Hawaii’s delegation to congress including Sen. Mazie Hirono.

“We want to do everything we can to support the small businesses and the military,” Hirono said. “It really is part of the aloha spirit. To see something from Hawaii always gives you that warm feeling.”

Sen. Mazie Hirono and former Sen. Daniel Akaka untie the ribbon to open the food show.

With DeCA estimating that the four commissaries in Hawaii generate more than $240 million annually, it’s easy to see why that getting into the marketplace can be a lucrative opportunity for local businesses.

Adrienne Sweeney, national sales manager for Island Princess, has been attending the food show since it began in 1997.

Already a familiar brand to commissary customers, Island Princess is well known for their Mele Macs, Macadamia Popcorn Crunch and other confections.

Sweeney, who returned to the show to promote a new line of dried fruit and jams, said through her connections with the commissary, she has seen the company’s products go across the globe.

“We sell our products through the commissary throughout Asia,” she said. “This is really a good opportunity, not only to sell our products, but to be there to support our military.”

James Chan and Ryan Nowinsky display sauces from Kilauea Fire.

While Sweeney’s relationship with the commissary has covered two decades, Jessica Mu-daly-Harrison and her husband JR took their first plunge with the food show.

Operating under Jesi’s Delicious Gourmet Foods, Mudaly-Harrison offers ready-made Thai and Indian sauces to make dinner preparations a snap.

With sauces like Pad Thai, Panang Curry, Butter Masala and four more flavors, Mudaly-Harrison’s creations have no MSG, and are gluten free, with no added sugar.

She said that all you need to do is add meat or use it to prepare a delicious vegetarian meal.

“I make my own spices,” she said. “Everything I do is from scratch. It works with chicken, beef, shrimp, but it’s got no meat products in it.”

JR Harrison and Jessica Mudaly-Harrison at Jesi’s Delicious Gourmet Foods booth.

Currently, the sauces are sold at Down to Earth, but since she noticed that many buyers of her products are military families, she decided to try and take it directly to them.

Decisions on the chosen products are made directly after the show, with items reaching the commissary and exchange shelves in 45 days.

With the show growing into a must-attend event for local vendors, it’s hard to imagine that the food show started 20 years ago with fewer than a dozen vendors.

Sen. Daniel Akaka was the visionary who thought of the show and worked tirelessly with commissary, exchange and ALA leadership to make it a reality.

Joy Grindley, Sylvia Claybaugh, Sanda Pequeros and Leandra Gollob hold up items from the Gouveia and Purity booth.

For his dedication to join Hawaii businesses with the commissary network, Akaka will be honored to have his name forever attached to the show he championed.

“Through the efforts of Sen. Akaka, thousands of products had been marketed at the Hawaii food show and many of them are now sold throughout the commissary network worldwide,” Hirono said. “It is fitting, for the 20th anniversary of this event. I am really privileged to make this announcement that beginning in 2018, this show will be renamed the Daniel K. Akaka ALA Hawaii Food Show.”

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Category: Life & Leisure