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NCL seeks partnerships with local growers

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NCL seeks partnerships with local growers

By EDWIN TANJI, Maui News City Editor

WAILUKU – A top procurement official for NCL America said Tuesday the cruise line is looking for partnerships with Hawaii farmers and businesses for products that can be used on the weekly round-the-islands cruises.

“What we’re trying to do is to bring the market to the farmers,” said Chris Wilks, Norwegian Cruise Line purchasing director for food, beverage and hotel consumable. “There are a tremendous amount of items and opportunities out there.”

Wilks is on Maui this week to visit farms and talk to producers about the cruise line’s effort to build local markets by providing local products on the ship that might invite cruise ship passengers to seek out the producer.

With three cruise ships eventually to tour the island weekly, the NCL purchases represent a massive new market for farmers and producers.

Kenneth Yamamura, agricultural specialist with the county Office of Economic Development, noted the difficulty may be providing the ships with the amount of produce they need at a competitive price. NCL America is committed to buying local, he said.

“The prices may not be the best, but there will be volume, so it’s an opportunity,” he said. “The question is whether the local farmers can produce the quantity.”

The county Office of Economic Development is coordinating meetings between producers and NCL. During a meeting with several producers in the mayor’s lounge at the Kalana O Maui building, Wilks made clear that it will be difficult for some Hawaii producers to compete.

Robin Rohrer, a businesswoman who says she is a novice farmer, asked about the opportunities for selling Hawaii beef or pork to the cruise ships. Wilks said NCL will consider any producer who complies with all of the federal regulations on slaughtering and preparation of meat products.

But he added that NCL also makes bulk purchases of meats for its 11 cruise ships from beef and pork producers in Iowa, who are able to offer sharply reduced prices because of the volume of the purchases.

“For our 11 vessels, that amounts to 1.3 million pounds a year. We get very favorable prices for that purchase,” he said.

Fresh produce is a different matter, and the company is working on an agreement to purchase bananas from the Big Island and is discussing specialty lettuce purchase from a Maui grower – if that grower can meet the demand, he said.

Just with the Pride of Aloha, he said NCL is buying 10,350 pounds of bananas every month, 16,200 pounds of cantaloupes, 19,100 pounds of watermelon, 21,000 pounds of various lettuce varieties, 16,000 pounds of herbs and 4,000 pounds of cabbage.

NCL last week announced an agreement to purchase Maui Brand Sugar from the Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co. in a marketing program that will promote the Maui-produced sugar while it is being used aboard the ship.

In a discussion with Bob Gunter, of Sandwich Islands Distillery Corp., Wilks held out the possibility of a similar purchase-marketing arrangement, noting that the company is already in discussions with another Maui business, Hawaiian Distillers, proposing to produce rum.

Gunter said his distillery will produce rum and okolehao, both of which will be produced completely from Maui-grown raw materials.

Wilks said the Pride of Aloha now carries about 10 labels of rum “but that’s not enough for most passengers.” He said the company would consider seriously other options of a quality product that is also unique for passengers, “who think all rum is produced in the Caribbean.”

Another appeal of a locally produced rum would be the potential for discovering the product as an activity on shore, he said.

“We like to have a product where we can say, ’Oh by the way, it’s made here on Maui, and oh by the way, you can visit the facilities,’” Wilks said.

He said the company is looking at opportunities for developing similar marketing partnerships with specialty coffee producers and even a nonagricultural product. A woman producing table runners is proposing to provide runners that will be used on dining tables that also will be available to passengers at an onshore location, he said.

“The passengers will be able to see it, feel it, enjoy it. And when they go onshore, they’ll be able to explore the shop and buy one for themselves,” he said.

At the same time, Wilks made clear that it isn’t easy to be accepted as a product for the cruise ships. Price is a key factor, along with quality and supply. But Rohrer said she was excited at the possibilities for farmers and other local producers.

“The idea is wonderful. I get all goose bumps thinking of all the effects of this opportunity,” she said.

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