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Pineapple in Paradise

By Office of Communication Services    Published on 12/28/2015 More stories >>

Hawaiian Crown’s Craig Bowden, Lisa Yamaguchi Bowden,
and Tom Menezes (left to right) provide opportunities for local growers to produce
their sweet pineapple.

Hawaiian Crown’s Craig Bowden, Lisa Yamaguchi Bowden, and Tom Menezes (left to right) provide opportunities for local growers to produce their sweet pineapple.

The last of the state’s pineapple canneries closed in 2007. But the reasons for Big Pine’s decline were economic, not agricultural; the Islands’ soils and climate are ideal for the fruit. Pineapple is still a very viable crop; all that’s required is a different economic model…and a different pineapple. Two CTAHR-associated pineapple businesses thriving under these new conditions are Haliimaile Pineapple Company and Hawaiian Crown—the former is a client of the college’s Agribusiness Incubator, which advised them as to their business plan and start-up, while the latter is owned and operated by two CTAHR alumni. At the same time, a new generation of pineapple research has implications beyond the field.

The big plantations were mainly involved in canning, which requires a more acid pineapple. But today’s local growers primarily capture the fresh market, which prizes a much sweeter fruit. Haliimaile delivers with its Maui Gold® supersweet pineapple, a variant of which was originally discovered by the CTAHR-affiliated Pineapple Research Institute in the 1970s. The company emphasizes ripeness and freshness, delivering 80% of the weekly harvest to local markets within three days. Haliimaile has also diversified their customer base, partnering with Maui’s Winery at Ulupalakua Ranch for pineapple wine, Haliimaile Distilling Company for Pau Vodka, and the Maui Culinary Academy at UH Maui College for roasted pineapple jam.

Haliimaile’s Darren Strand and Roderigo “Rudy” Balala make
sure their sweet pineapple reaches customers at the peak of ripeness.

Haliimaile’s Darren Strand and Roderigo “Rudy” Balala make sure their sweet pineapple reaches customers at the peak of ripeness..

Hawaiian Crown founders and former CTAHRites Craig Bowden, Lisa Yamaguchi Bowden, and Tom Menezes offer their own exclusive supersweet variety, Sweet GoldTM. The company not only has its own farms; it partners with other family farms on O‘ahu, Kaua‘i, and the Big Island, providing an alternative to plantation-scale production that creates an opportunity for local growers. Hawaiian Crown has also moved into value-added and diversified agriculture products, producing chocolate from its certified organic cacao orchards and Hawaiian CrownTM products from partner farms growing coffee, macadamia nuts, banana, and coconuts.

Nor is all the exciting news in pineapple in marketing and processing. Though the Pineapple Research Institute no longer exists, important pineapple research continues at the college. Tropical Plant and Soil Sciences (TPSS) researchers Nancy Jung Chen and Robert Paull were part of the international team—led by TPSS graduate Ray Ming—that recently sequenced the genes in the pineapple genome. This work provides an important step towards understanding what makes pineapple able to thrive in arid conditions where few other crops can survive, and how this knowledge can be used for other crops in drought-stricken areas.