Vendors score record turnout at Ala Food Show

Members of Golden Touch Trading cook a few of the products that they brought to the ALA Food Show.

Members of Golden Touch Trading cook a few of the products that they brought to the ALA Food Show.

Story and photos by Randy Dela Cruz Sports Editor, Ho‘okele

In 19 years of operation, the annual American Logistics Association (ALA) Hawaii Food Show has become the premier destination for local vendors wishing to break into the lucrative commissary marketplace.

According to ALA Hawaii show co-chair Sharon Zambo-Fan, from its modest beginnings, which opened the doors to five vendors, the show has continually pushed the envelope and this year was no exception.

“We normally cap off at 70 because we try to give people more space,” Zambo-Fan said. “This year, we went to 76 and we still had over a dozen companies that we couldn’t meet their request to come here.”

It’s no wonder that local companies are turning out in record numbers, as a place on the commissary’s shelves could be a gateway to getting their products into marketplaces around the globe.

Zambo-Fan said that the uniqueness of the Hawaii market has a lot to do with the success of the ALA Food Show.

“They tried to emulate what we do here in San Diego, but it’s difficult,” Zambo-Fan said. “Ninety-percent of businesses are local, small businesses, but at the same time, we have a big base of military and with that, we have a very diverse ethnicity here. It’s a partnership.”

Upon entering packed room of venders, one of the first visible booths spoke volumes of the kind of diversity that has become commonplace at the annual event.

Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard (center) stands next to retired Sen. Daniel Akaka, while meeting with a possible vendor at the ALA Food Show.

Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard (center) stands next to retired Sen. Daniel Akaka, while meeting with a possible vendor at the ALA Food Show.

Golden Touch Trading, whose selection of Filipino foods has been a part of commissary shelves for over a decade, was back again looking to expand upon their presence at the Hawaii locations.

Rhea Castro said that the company’s acceptance into the local commissary market was the biggest turning point toward its success.

“It’s really hard before,” she said. “But later on, we have products in all commissaries.”

While the show highlights some of the best food products that the island has to offer, Keith Hagenbuch, Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA) executive director store operations, said that this was just the first step in a very stringent process before vendors are finally welcomed.

“We’ll taste products here that are fantastic,” Hagenbuch said. “But since the military has such a scrutinized environmental system, they will never make it through the process.”

Eyvinne Umemoto, store director of Pearl Harbor commissary, and Tototua Ripley, Hickam store director, said that not only does the military hold very strict standards, but getting through the gauntlet of tasters and evaluators that roam the show can be a daunting task – especially for first timers.

Umemoto said that uniqueness is certainly a factor in deciding which products make it, but he and Ripley must always keep in mind that everyday items will always have a place in a well-rounded store.

“For example, if somebody wants to make sushi,” Umemoto said. “The ingredients to make that sushi are not the fastest sellers. If you don’t have that wrap, then you cannot make your sushi. Why let them go downtown somewhere else looking for it?”

As in the past few years, many of the vendors aimed their products toward a healthier lifestyle through food and drinks that not only taste good, but also are also good for you.

Hawaii Coffee Company, which distributes Lion Coffee, Royal Kona Coffee and Hawaiian Island Tea, made a pitch for coffee that is full of antioxidants, while Patrick McGuirk of Johnson Brothers of Hawaii hopes to add new favors of Bai5, another drink that is antioxidant rich, low in calories and is naturally sweetened.

If you need more energy to get through you day, then Uptime energy drink just might be the right boost to help get you going.

Carrie Kim, president and proprietor of the company, said that Uptime offers smooth energy all day long without the crashes that other drinks in the same category might cause.

Even body care has gone natural with companies, such as Puna Noni Naturals, which offers a variety of products that includes Puna Noni juices, capsules and a line of body wash, shampoos and conditioners.

Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, who along with retired Sen. Daniel Akaka, spoke and untied the maile lei during the show’s opening ceremonies, said that going through the event reaffirmed the important role that our local commissaries play in Hawaii’s communities and in the lives of military families all over the world.

Gabbard said that she would always fight to ensure that our country’s military families never lose the benefits and quality of life that commissaries afford all of those who protect our nation.

“I know from firsthand experience for myself and my family, but I hear it from my fellow Soldiers all the time on how much they depend on being able to shop at the commissary to support their families,” Gabbard said. “We were able to include in the House defense authorization bill this year to continue funding and resources to support the commissary. As people talk about rolling back or getting rid of the commissary benefit, I appreciate being able to serve in Congress to be able to bring voice for our service members to say ‘no this is not something that we will allow to happen.'”

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Category: News