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Hyperlocal frozen dessert by OnoPops

Ono PopsOnoPops produces a variety of flavors depending on local ingredient availabilty.

In 2010 brothers Josh Lanthier-Welch and Joe Welch established OnoPops, whose flagship product line consists of ice pops made from local and organic ingredients. Profoundly inspired by the patela tradition of ice and milk-based frozen pops in Latin America, the brothers based their product line on a marriage of the Mexican patela and Hawaiian regional cuisine. The result is an endless range of creative flavor combinations that changes continually based on which ingredients are available from local sources.

“Chocolate Apple Banana,” “Crackseed Lemon Peel,” and “Starfruit Lemongrass” are examples of flavors drawn from both the local palate and Hawai‘i farms. “Our goal is to get back to local self-sufficiency one pop at time. Eating local can make an amazing treat,” says Josh, who is a chef and the culinary expert of the brother team.

OnoPops has differentiated their products by sourcing approximately 95% of their ingredients locally. “We don’t just talk the talk—we work tirelessly to source our local ingredients. With very few exceptions, every fruit we use grew in Hawaiian soil,” states Josh proudly regarding the core tenet of their business to use local ingredients. The ingredients that they cannot get locally, such as ume (Japanese pickled plum) and condensed milk are certified organic, therefore they can state on their web site, “All ingredients are locally sourced, organic, or both.” With residents making up about 70% of their customers (30% visitors), the most popular flavors are those based on uniquely local taste preferences such as crack seed, “p to the o to the g” (passion fruit, orange, and guava juices), and mango. In addition to their own culinary expertise, the brothers have gotten insights into incorporating unusual tropical fruits and spices from local experts Maureen and Tane Datta, Ken Love, and the Hawai‘i Department of Agriculture web site.

The brothers have developed an imaginative cartoon motif for their labeling and web site. The main flavors each have their own character. The characters live in an imaginary world called Plantation Island where each town on the island represents a different era from Hawai‘i’s past. The imaginary island and cast of characters strengthens the brand image rooted in Hawai‘i’s agricultural traditions and unique cultural heritage.

Product testing began first with tastings by their families and friends, then rapidly expanding to sales at O‘ahu farmers markets, where they still have booths at 6–8 markets per week. Whole Foods and Foodland are currently major retailers, with a range of others including health food stores Kokua Market and Down-to-Earth. A concession at the Punahou School snack bar has also proven to be a profitable sales venue. The company has recently added the UH Mānoa campus, Iolani School, MidPacific Academy, and UH Football at Aloha Stadium as venues, as well as introducing a 4-pack of favorite flavors that is stocked in every Foodland freezer on O‘ahu. The company participates in food truck and pop-up events on O‘ahu, which allows them to reach different customers than their usual venues. In addition to distributing to O‘ahu wholesale and direct-to-consumer markets, OnoPops reaches the other Hawaiian Islands through a major distributor.

One of the major challenges of OnoPops’ business is the high price of local ingredients, which they estimate at 3–7 times the cost of imported. There is also the added labor of sourcing local fruits and other ingredients that are not readily available. The company projects that they are close to reaching an economy of scale necessary for profitability and have plans for future expansion into new markets, including their own flagship retail outlet in 2014. Another challenge is competition from new companies who have imitated OnoPops’ business model and, in some cases, unique flavor combinations.

OnoPops, Hawai‘i Kai, O‘ahu
Josh Lanthier-Welch and Joe Welch, owners

This profile was excerpted with permission of the authors from:

Elevitch, C., and K. Love. 2013. Adding Value to Locally Grown Crops in Hawai‘i: A Guide for Small Farm Enterprise Innovation. Permanent Agriculture Resources, Holualoa, Hawai‘i. www.valueadded.info

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