Leadership changes percolating at Kaua‘i Coffee Co.

The island’s — and the nation’s — largest coffee estate is brewing something different these days. Kaua‘i Coffee Co. recently welcomed a new president and general manager, and with leadership changes percolating, the business appears poised to expand its brand.

Wayne Katayama took the helm in mid-April, calling the move “very exciting.”

Having spent his entire professional career in agriculture — specifically sugar and guava — Katayama said his current position shares a lot of similarities with past jobs. He noted, though, that the industry also has its unique qualities.

“Coffee is a product with a lot of ambiance,” he said.

Katayama said he sees the greatest strength in the company’s well-positioned, fully integrated operations. The estate grows, processes and roasts its own coffee. Additionally, the estate has its own water source and generates power with hydroelectric plants.

On his vision for Kaua‘i Coffee Co., Katayama said there is a greater opportunity to develop a Kaua‘i-branded product. The beans are grown, processed and finished on-island with the help of 53 regular employees and a seasonal staff of 70 or more.

“Kaua‘i Coffee can represent the island and throughout the state,” he said.

Former president Frank Kiger agreed that the local nature of the product and business is important to its success.

“Coffee is a global product that also promotes Kaua‘i as a destination,” he said via e-mail.

Playing a big role in that mission is the Kaua‘i Coffee Visitor Center just past ‘Ele‘ele on Highway 540. It serves as a “statesperson” for the coffee, Katayama said.

Currently, about 85 percent of the arabica coffee varieties cultivated at the estate — including Yel Red Catuai, Kaua‘i Blue Mountain, Mundo Novo and Typica — are sold as green, unroasted beans to wholesalers across the country.

According to Kiger, the remaining 15 percent is roasted and sold ready-to-brew in Hawai‘i, with the majority sold on-island via the visitor center, mail-order program and Kaua‘i restaurants, hotels and other food service outlets.

According to the Kaua‘i Coffee Web site, the “rich volcanic soil, abundant mountain water, warm Pacific sun, and cool tradewinds” provide the perfect microclimate. Katayama said that while the coffee is not organic, the kind conditions allow for less pesticide use on the estate’s 3,400 acres under cultivation.

“The way we husband the land, we take a lot of care for it,” he said.

Katayama replaces Kiger, who will now serve as vice-chairman and remain senior vice president of the factory operations for Hawaiian Commercial and Sugar Co.

Kiger described his new role as oversight, advocacy and reinforcement from a corporate management level as well as supporting the Kaua‘i Coffee team’s efforts through interactions with the company’s executive management and board.

Kiger said that Katayama brings “considerable experience in management and agriculture and a network of contacts” from the food products and agribusiness industries that span the state and the nation.

Kaua‘i Coffee is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the publicly traded Alexander & Baldwin Inc.

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