Lawai is jammin’

  • Dennis Fujimoto / The Garden Island

    A shelf of Monkeypod Jam products awaits customers at the Lawai retail shop.

  • Dennis Fujimoto / The Garden Island

    Kalena Kazen of Monkeypod Jam scans a customer’s order Thursday at the Lawai retail shop.

  • Dennis Fujimoto / The Garden Island

    Aletha Thomas of Monkeypod Jam sets out a copper pan of mountain apple pepper jelly for simmering Thursday at the Lawai retail shop.

LAWAI — Monkeypod Jam is one of 10 businesses selected as Mana Up’s first cohort selling market- tested, value-added products that are authentic representatives of the Hawaii brand.

The announcement was made last week in Honolulu. Monkeypod Jam is the only firm honored from Kauai.

Last week, owner Aletha Thomas was looking for lilikoi, also known as passion fruit, Thursday at the shop in Lawai.

“If we can’t get fruit (locally grown), we don’t make it,” Thomas said. “Lilikoi is at the base of Lilikoi Curd, one of our best-selling products. Mango did not have a good season this year, so we were limited in the number of mango-based product we produced.”

Monkeypod Jam offers “low-sugar, commercial pectin-free, fruit preserves highlighting fruit grown 100 percent on Kauai.”

“We are the second-largest buyer of fruits on Kauai,” said Thomas, whose mission is to support Hawaii agriculture. “We have farmers who dedicate rows, or lime trees, just for us. If a fruit is not in season, we can’t make it.”

Meli James, one of the three Mana Up co-founders along with Michael Cheski and Brittany Heyd, said the companies were selected for its first cohort because they represent the future of Hawaii’s economy through demonstrating how a product from Hawaii can be a competitive advantage rather than a prohibitive cost.

“This cohort has already achieved remarkable success by taking advantage of Hawaii’s strengths and authentically integrating Hawaii’s brand into their own,” James said in a news release.

“The deciding factor was that we see tremendous potential for each company to grow internationally because of the caliber of the product and entrepreneurs.”

Each company is entwined with Hawaii’s agricultural sector by either growing their own crops, or sourcing raw ingredients from local farms.

Each firm makes a premium product geared towards enticing a global audience, in part because of their roots in Hawaii.

Mana Up is a Hawaii-based initiative designed to build the state’s next 100 product companies earning $1 million or more in annual revenue by hosting an accelerator program offered biannually to enable Hawaii product entrepreneurs to scale their businesses and an e-commerce platform selling Hawaii products to consumers outside of the state.

“This is exciting,” Thomas said. “We are over the $100,000 in sales annually, but $1 million? We’re nowhere close to that. To be selected one of 10 companies from 85 applicants is exciting.”

Monkeypod Jam started in 2010 with no financial backing.

“I was an art teacher and using the experience and what I learned from working with my mother and grandmother making jams and preserves, we started when the Kauai Community Market opened,” Thomas said.

When the Lawai retail location became available, Monkeypod Jam’s business expanded to include pickles, relishes, syrups, shrubs (drinking vinegars), and the list continues to grow.

Thomas also maintain locations at the Kauai Community Market and The Kauai Culinary Market.

Additionally, Monkeypod Jam products are sold at retail stores around the island.

The 10 companies in the Mana Up first cohort include the Hawaiian Vanilla Company from the Big Island. From Oahu, companies are the Hawaiian Pie Company, Hawaiian Rainbow Bees, Kunoa Cattle Company, Mamalani, Manoa Chocolate, The Tea Chest, Voyaging Foods and Manulele Distillers.

Thomas said when the co-founders of Mana Up started up, they looked at products selling Hawaii and were dismayed at how many capitalized on the Hawaii name, but were produced overseas.

“Hawaii’s agriculture is at a turning point,” said Dana Santos, director of asset management at Kamehameha Schools, a Mana Up title sponsor.


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