As sugar production winds down in Maui, many Hawai‘i businesses are scrambling for a local alternative. Some are even stockpiling the last bags of Maui sugar while they’re still around.
It’s floor to ceiling sugar at the Onopops warehouse in Kalihi. Chef-owner Josh Lanthier-Welch leads me into their storage room.
“So this is the rest of the three tons,” said Lanthier-Welch pointing to two 7 foot chest freezers packed with sugar. “And hopefully this will keep us through May.”
After that, Lanthier-Welch said things could get dicey.
“It’s going to be using some raw cane juice. It’s going to be looking for other people who have stockpiled who are willing to break me off a ton. It’s going to be a number of different things and scrambling for next year,” Lanthier-Welch said emphasizing that a lot of support has already come in from the community. “People are really trying to make this work and find a way forward. People want to keep feeding their kids Onopops for dessert.”
A driving force of his company is making a product, in this case popsicles, that’s made from nearly 100-percent local ingredients.
“We’ve done over 100 flavors to date. There are just a handful of things: mochi flour, sometimes we use a really good organic Japanese ume, almond milk for our vegan chocolate. And that’s about it,” said Lanthier-Welch, describing three or four varieties of his locally made popsicles. “Every other flavor we make is 100-percent Hawaiian.”
And it’s not just Onopops that want to stay that way. Paul Case with Kolani Distillers produces local rum on Maui. He and several other companies also rely on a steady source of sugar from HC&S.
“There are people that use sugar to make facial scrubs here, the jam and jelly people, Onopops,” said Case. “So there are literally 23 businesses here that want to market a Hawaiian grown sugar product just because it really is world famous.”
Case says that local identity is important enough for him and other businesses to consider leasing a small portion of HC&S land. He’s moving toward setting up a sugar coop and believes it could be up and running in the next year and a half.
“And so we’re all stocking up and all going, ‘Okay, let’s get enough for 18 months,’” Case said. “We probably can get this thing off the ground in 18 months.”
After that, he’ll recalculate his company’s needs. HC&S plans its final harvest by the end of the year.