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Innovative local chips by Hawaiian Chip Company

CI0A9212-EditJimmy Chan of Hawaiian Chip Company at his made-to-order chip outlet in Kalihi.Jimmy Chan went into business after graduating from college in 2000. After two important learning experiences with businesses that did not take off, Chan found success in his chip company, which is now 20 employees strong with distribution throughout Hawai‘i. As his business grew, he found that focusing on product quality was the key to success in selling to bigger and better accounts. Every new account challenged him to continue maintaining quality, while a track record of high quality led to additional accounts.

Hawaiian Chip Company specializes in taro and sweetpotato chips. Quality begins with sourcing fresh Hawai‘i-grown produce: taro from Hawai‘i Island and Waialua, orange sweetpotato from Moloka‘i, and purple sweetpotato from Hawai‘i Island and Mililani. The company delivers its products directly to a range of specialty stores and supplies larger markets through big distributors. They ship Internet purchases directly to customers. Currently, the company does not have retail sales on the mainland U.S. due to limited raw materials and the inability to control inventory quality in distant locations.

Chan has recently developed a made-to-order chip retail outlet at his Kalihi Kai production facility. Customers can walk in or call in to order chips to be picked up still warm from the kitchen. Chan enthusiastically describes the new products, “Made-to-order chips provide a unique experience for consumers. Not only do they get to experience freshly made chips, but they can flavor the chips however they like from our seasoning bar.” This unique experience and the quality products account for a significant portion of business coming from word-of-mouth advertising. “It’s not just the products we offer that build connections with customers. When they come into our retail outlet, we welcome them warmly and acknowledge where they come from,” explains Chan. Since the made-to-order chip business serves more adventurist customers, Chan caters to them by teaching them about the products and how they are made. Raw taro corms and sweetpotato tubers are on display so that customers can experience the Hawai‘i-grown materials, how they are handled, and how much care is put into the product at each stage of the process. “The made-to-order chips give customers something to tell their friends and family. They can return to their family and say, ‘I bought a bag of freshly made chips and seasoned it myself!’ Such experiences are an important part of the brand we are building,” says Chan.

In addition to word-of-mouth advertising, Hawaiian Chip Company educates new customers face-to-face at craft fairs and tradeshows, such as the Made in Hawai‘i Festival. Giving people a chance to sample the product is important. For example, the purple sweetpotato chips are unfamiliar to many visitors and they have to try them before buying. Chan firmly believes, “Our product quality is built upon customer suggestions and feedback. We want to hear the good and the bad.”

One of the biggest challenges that Chan has faced is to increase profits while maintaining quality. He invests his energy only on products that he is passionate about, which he believes is a key to success. Chan credits his value-added product achievements to keeping an open mind and learning from others at every opportunity, such as when travelling to new places or talking with other entrepreneurs. One inspiration for Chan has been hearing from Allen Ikawa about his experiences building Big Island Candies into a worldwide leader. “That company has set the standard for value-added—building up to that standard continually inspires me to get better. My philosophy is to add value to my products, then add value to that value—I’m always looking for ways add more value,” says Chan.

Hawaiian Chip Company, Kalihi Kai, Honolulu
Jimmy Chan, Owner

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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