Traditions continues

CEO for Navy Exchange Service Command retired Rear Adm. Robert Bianchi and Millannie Mattson, daughter of the late Sen. Daniel Akaka, untie the living ribbon to signify the start of the Daniel K. Akaka ALA Hawaii Food Show.

Story and photos by Randy Dela Cruz

Sports Editor, Ho‘okele

Twenty-one years ago, Sen. Daniel Akaka had a vision to introduce local businesses and products into the vast chain of military commissaries and exchanges.

The concept would not only serve local businesses with an outlet to share their products with the military community in Hawaii, but would also give the state’s entrepreneurs an avenue to jumpstart their business and help grow Hawaii’s economy.

After Akaka presented the idea to the Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA) and Military Exchange back in 1997, a food show, that would give local vendors a chance to audition their products directly to military buyers, was born.

Debbie Cavana and Marc Fujimoto, general manager of Aloha Gourmet Products, Inc., serve up a smoothie at their booth.

Initially called the American Logistics Association (ALA) Hawaii Food Show, starting this year, the event has been officially renamed to the Daniel K. Akaka ALA Hawaii Food Show to honor the senator, who died only four months ago on April 6.

While the first show was fairly modest with less than a dozen vendors, last year’s event placed 500 new items on the shelves of commissaries and exchanges throughout the state with 23 new companies introducing their products.

Buyer Kawohi Cobb-Adams discusses the Acai To-Go, a frozen treat, with product reps Felipe Barreneche and Alana Lima.

This year, the trend continued to reflect the growth and popularity of the event as 65 vendors, of which 14 were first-timers, packed the show on Aug. 14 at the Prince Waikiki Hotel in Honolulu.

“Without the vision he (Akaka) had and the faith in local companies, I truly believe that we wouldn’t be here,” said Sharon Zambo-Fan, food show chairwoman. “It’s an honor that he gave us the blessing to re- name this in his honor.”

If he was at this year’s show, the senator would have been happy to see so many vendors auditioning their products for placement on commissary shelves.

Akiko Frazier fries up some Tulip Luncheon Meat from the Family Foods booth.

Aloha Gourmet Products, Inc. has already been in the commissaries and exchanges with a selection of snacks and beverages.

According to Marc Fujimoto, the company’s general manager, the experience has been so positive, he’s back again to try and bring
more products in for military families.

At right, Robbie Adams and Loren Shoop talk over their product Hawaiian Hummus by Ulu Mana with Eyvinne Umemoto, store director of Pearl Harbor commissary.

While it definitely helps the bottom line, he said, the relationship is even more rewarding because of who the company is serving.

“They are defending our country. They got our backs,” Fujimoto pointed out. “Any- thing we can do to help them here in the islands, that’s just a feel-good thing for us.”

As he toured through the floor of vendors, retired Rear Adm. Robert Bianchi, (CEO for Navy Exchange Service Command), who served at Pearl Harbor with the Supply Corps from 1997-99, said that seeing all of the local products brought back fond memories of his time in Hawaii.

He said that he remembers many things about being in the 50th state and knows just how much it means to have home-grown items with you no matter where you go.

“Because we have such a diverse military family, and the fact that people move all over the world, when they have the opportunity to see something that reminds them, it brings back that feel- ing of home and comfort,” Bianchi said.

“When you’re in places like Djibouti, Romania or all these other places, it’s the little things that are so important.”

Over the years, the addition of made-in-Hawaii products has turned local commissaries into some of the most popular and profitable commissaries in the world.

In 2017, the Pearl Harbor commissary finished the year at No. 2 with sales reaching $85 million, while Schofield commissary checked in at No. 4 with sales of $66 million.

Debra Wada, retired assistant secretary of the Army, once served directly for Akaka for 12 years.

She said that the success of the food show is a direct result of the senator’s spirit of aloha and his desire to share it with everyone.

“When I worked for Danny, I did his defense and affairs work, so of the projects that I worked on, this (food show) was one of them,” Wada shared.

“For Danny, food and culture was part of how you shared aloha. Bringing people the food that we loved and enjoyed, and having people understand and appreciate those same foods and culture was important to him.”

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Category: FeaturedLife & Leisure