Safeway, Albertsons, and Kroger recently agreed to settle a lawsuit with coffee growers who accused them of selling fake Kona coffee.
An agreement was recently made between Hawaiian coffee growers and retailers like Safeway and Albertsons who were allegedly selling counterfeit Kona coffee. The lawsuit was originally filed by a handful of coffee farmers in Hawaii’s Kona district against more than 20 companies back in February 2019 shortly after “a lab test reportedly confirmed long-held suspicions that beans being marketed as Kona coffee weren’t actually from the iconic region.”
After nearly two years of litigation, negotiations, and interviews, a Seattle federal judge granted “preliminary approval for settlements with Kroger, which owns QFC and Fred Meyer, as well as the parent company of Safeway and Albertsons and a Honolulu-based roaster.” This recent settlement agreement “follows eight others and brings the total settlement amount to $15.25 million.” As part of the agreement, the defendants must “change how they label their products.” One of the defendants, Hawaiian Isles Coffee Co., also has to “change its name, dropping Kona from its former name Hawaiian Isles Kona Coffee,” according to the agreement.
Additionally, the defendants are all required to “include the percentage of coffee beans that came from the Kona region on its packaging, in the same font and color as the word Kona.”
Prior to the settlement, and in addition to claiming the coffee was being mislabeled as Kona coffee, the suit alleged the defendants “misled consumers into believing their products contain an appreciable amount of Kona coffee beans in order to use the reputation and goodwill of the Kona name to justify higher prices for what is actually ordinary commodity coffee.” Because of that, the plaintiffs claimed that “depressed the market price for coffee from the Kona region…cutting into profits for the coffee growers in Hawaii.” The suit further stated:
“The alleged false designation damages the geographic designation itself and the designation’s value to the farmers of authentic Kona coffee.”
The suit added:
“Each plaintiff runs a small coffee farm, and amidst the challenges of the global pandemic, have unflaggingly devoted their time, along with their expertise and experience as Kona farmers.”
In order to prove the coffee was counterfeit, the farmers “hired scientists to determine chemical ratios in different types of coffee.” It turns out, the scientists “found much of the coffee sold nationally as Kona failed the test for what growers say is the telltale chemical signatures of the real stuff.”
As part of this recent settlement, Hawaiian Isles Coffee will have to fork over $800,000 and Kroger must pay $1.35 million. A similar settlement between the coffee farmers and Costco was reached back in March 2021.
So how much can each farmer expect to receive? Well, that will depend on “how much coffee the farmer sold during a specific period.”