Hawaii execs step in to keep Maui Gold pineapple growing
By Alan Yonan Jr.
Advertiser Staff Writer
A group of former Maui Pineapple Co. executives have teamed up with the owner of Ulupalakua Ranch to take over some of the pineapple operations of Maui Land & Pineapple Co.
ML&P had announced in November that it would close its pineapple division after nearly 100 years of plantation-scale farming on the Valley Isle. The company last week harvested its final pineapple crop.
The new company, Haliimaile Pineapple Co., will continue to grow and market fresh pineapple under the established Maui Gold Brand, although on a smaller scale. The company said yesterday it will hire back 65 former Maui Pineapple Co. workers and farm about 1,000 of the 3,000 acres that were previously cultivated.
"We're thrilled to be doing this," said Doug Schenk, former Maui Pineapple Co. president and member of the new management team.
"Maui Gold pineapple is a variety that no one else has. We knew that there was huge demand for it," said Schenk, who left Maui Pineapple in 2001.
Haliimaile has purchased and licensed key assets, and leased farm land, equipment and buildings from ML&P.
The other principals in the new company are Pardee Erdman, owner of Ulupalakua Ranch; former vice presidents of Maui Pineapple Doug MacCluer and Ed Chenchin; and the current operating directors for Maui Pineapple, Darren Strand and Rudy Balala.
Erdman will be the majority owner. The group brings more than 150 years of combined expertise in growing and packing premium pineapple on Maui, the company said.
"We are proud to continue the 100-year legacy of pineapple on Maui," said Strand, president and CEO of the new company.
"Haliimaile Pineapple Co. brings new hope for a new year by immediately saving 65 agricultural jobs with an expectation of adding more in the future."
Schenk said the new company plans to focus on the local market, selling about 90 percent of its harvest in Hawai'i. Haliimaile will supply fresh fruit to local hotels, restaurants and supermarkets while increasing its direct-to-consumer business.
That's a different business strategy from that of Maui Pineapple Co., which exported some of its fruit to the West Coast where it had to compete with cheaper imports from Central America.
"We are grateful to Haliimaile Pineapple Co. for saving these jobs to make this a happy New Year for so many Maui families," said Willie Kennison, Maui division director for the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.
Gov. Linda Lingle and Maui Mayor Charmaine Tavares also applauded the move.
"The formation of Haliimaile Pineapple Co. and its plan to assume pineapple operations from Maui Land and Pineapple Co. is welcomed news for Maui and the entire State of Hawai'i," Lingle said in a news release.
Tavares added: "I am extremely grateful to the company for their commitment to continue Maui Gold pineapple on Maui. I was excited to hear that nearly 70 employees will retain jobs associated with Haliimaile Pineapple Co. and I'm confident that the new company will find success."