With the slogan, “Crunchy Little Bites for Healthy Appetites,” Keiki Cukes is a popular, locally produced veggie hitting supermarket shelves. Since the company opened in 2012, it has tripled in size according to Big Island Produce co-owner and GM Eric Batha.
“We sell over a million pounds of cucumbers annually,” shares Batha. The mini-cukes are produced in grow bags filled with organic, shredded coconut husks and receive water and nutrients via a water dripper. Big Island Produce utilizes four acres of greenhouses at Waimea’s Lalamilo Farm Lots and is getting ready to break ground on another acre of greenhouse space.
Getting Started and Finding a Market Niche
“We appreciate all the support we’ve gotten here in Hawaii,” notes Batha, who grew up in Oregon helping his father, Vince, raise cattle and grow hay. The father-son partnered to open Big Island Produce after they both spent a few years in Hawai‘i looking to do something different than what they were the most familiar with—construction. Both men ran their own independent contracting companies in Oregon.
Batha says he got sound advice on growing produce from local farmers and friends farming mini-cukes in Canada, “but we learned mostly from trial and error and spent a significant amount of time Googling. The easiest part for us was the building of the facility.”
Four years ago, there weren’t any locally produced mini-cukes on the market so Big Island Produce “took the gamble” and went into production. “At first we gave them away,” he says, adding that retailers weren’t sure of the product’s marketability.
Hawai‘i Product Popularity
“Now it’s amazing how well Keiki Cukes have been received,” he continues. “Consumers like the mini-size, especially kids. They are easy to use for single servings. We just started sending them to Maui schools.”
While Keiki Cukes is Big Island Produce’s signature product, the company is also testing Japanese cucumbers and a small amount is being sold this summer to select retailers.
Batha says it’s hard to find farm workers as “the cost of living is high in Hawai‘i.” The company averages 30 employees. “With the labor issue, we have to be conscious of our growth level.”
To sell at grocers and retailers, Keiki Cukes must be food safety certified, requiring adherence to specific requirements and diligent record keeping of the growing and packaging processes.
Regarding competing with imported cucumbers, Batha says he can’t better the price point of giant farms in Mexico. “But our product is fresh and the quality and taste is better,” he emphasizes.
“If you told me 10 years ago I’d be producing cucumbers today, I wouldn’t have believed it,” smiles Batha. ”It’s a lot of work, and not a 9-to-5 job, but it’s rewarding. We have created a demand for Keiki Cukes.”
For more information, visit www.bigislandproduce.com.