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The Honolulu Advertiser

Updated at 2:47 p.m., Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Ironman's Guatemala coffee choice irks Kona growers

By Sean Hao
Advertiser Staff Writer

The official coffee of this month's Ironman Triathlon is from Guatemala, and Kona coffee growers aren't happy about it.

The arduous event, which started in Hawai'i in 1978, this week announced that its Ironman Organic coffee is made from beans originating from the El Quiche region of that Central American country. The new coffee brand was created by Ironman athletes who realized the need for creating an "ideal" coffee after noticing the market was limited, the Ironman organization said in a news release.

In picking a Guatemalan coffee the event snubbed Hawai'i's popular Kona coffee, according to local growers. Hawai'i is the only state in the country with a commercial coffee industry.

"To import and serve a foreign coffee, no matter how good, as the 'ideal' coffee into the heart of the Kona coffee growing district is unconscionable," said Kona Coffee Farmers Association president Ken Sheppard in a news release. "Kona has always supported the Ironman contest and its athletes. Kona people will not react well to this."

The Kona Pacific Farmers Cooperative also opposes the choice to use Guatemalan coffee.

Ironman spokeswoman Blair LaHaye said event organizers were meeting today to discuss concerns raised by local coffee growers.

"While Ironman is certainly a worldwide brand with events in more than 45 different locations around the globe we recognize how important the relationship is here with the Big Island as well as the Kona community," she said.

The Ironman Triathlon was first held on O'ahu before moving to Kona in 1981. The event is credited with spurring a worldwide movement. Today, similar events involving biking, swimming and running, are held worldwide.

Reach Sean Hao at shao@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8093.