From its sandy beaches to its lush tropical vegetation, Hawaii is known as a place of great natural beauty. It should stand to reason, then, that the state’s foodservice industry would take an active role in promoting natural and sustainable food. One of the leading voices in that movement in Hawaii is Hilo-based Kulana Foods, one of the state’s most successful slaughterhouses and processors of meat. The company has taken the ideas of sustainable and locally sourced food seriously, as its participation in initiatives such as the “Taste of the Hawaiian Range” agricultural festival demonstrate.
Kulana Foods specializes in processing beef, but the company also processes lamb and wild boar from the big island. It counts some of the biggest and most popular restaurants in Hawaii among its customers, and the fact that it focuses exclusively on locally sourced meat certainly has helped it become one of the state’s leading suppliers. The company also supplies many of the state’s grocery store chains under multiple brands.
As the benefits of locally sourced, grass-fed beef become more apparent to ranchers, restaurants and consumers, Kulana Foods stands to reap the rewards of its focus on Hawaiian beef. With the company’s already strong reputation and its industry connections behind it, Kulana Foods expects to continue to promote the natural advantages of the Aloha State well into the future.
According to the USDA, Hawaii’s Big Island produces the majority of the approximately 41.5 million pounds of beef that comes from the state each year. Although raising cattle on grain has long been the standard for ranchers in Hawaii and on the mainland, a growing number of ranchers are raising their herds as free-roaming cattle that feed only on grass and natural legumes, without the use of antibiotics and/or growth hormones. Not only does feeding their cattle grass reduce costs by being much cheaper than importing grain from the mainland, but the resulting beef contains less fat, cholesterol and calories than grain-fed beef.
Additionally, the number of Hawaiian-raised cattle that are being slaughtered for consumption locally has been on the rise. According to the USDA, more than a quarter of all cattle raised in Hawaii are being slaughtered locally, and that number has been increasing since 2009. Kulana Foods sources grass-fed beef from a number of respected Hawaiian ranchers, including the Kahua Ranch, the Palani Ranch and the Parker Ranch.
Along with its association with many of the best ranchers of grass-fed beef in Hawaii, Kulana Foods also benefits from its association with the Taste of the Hawaiian Range agricultural festival, which has been held every year for the past 17 years and is gearing up for its 18th annual event this October. The event started as a companion to the Forage Field Day held by the University of Hawaii’s Mealani Research Station.
“Evolving over the years with a variety of events … Mealani’s Taste of the Hawaiian Range continues to share the importance of creating a Big Island livestock production system that is economically, ecologically and socially sustainable,” according to the event’s website. “While it markets local products by hooking up producers with users such as chefs and consumers, Taste also enables producers to get instant product feedback and network with other industry members.”
And it appears the event is doing a good job of promoting the Hawaiian grass-fed beef industry with local customers. The event’s organizers point to the Four Seasons Resort Hualalai, which recently instituted a sustainable grass-fed beef program in its kitchens that utilizes the entire cow, which it sources from Kulana Foods. Executive Chef James Babian, who led a grass-fed Hawaiian beef cooking class at last year’s Taste of the Hawaiian Range, said the program makes sense economically as well as in a culinary sense.
“We want to support our local beef industry while adhering to our culinary direction of regional, seasonal and artisanal,” Babian said on the event’s website, adding that the resort purchases 21- to 40-day-aged whole beef carcasses from Kulana Foods, averaging about two or three a month. “Using the whole animal requires more work, more labor, but gives us an opportunity to be more creative in the kitchen,” he added.