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Safeway Settles Kona Lawsuit After Two Year Battle

Safeway, the second largest grocery chain in the United States, has settled a federal lawsuit filed by California resident Chanee Thurston alleging damages from the labeling of “Safeway Select Kona Blend Coffee.” Backed by the Kona Coffee Farmers Association, Thurston filed the class action suit in 2011, after a Kona coffee farmer traveling in California discovered a bag of Kona-labeled coffee retailing in a Safeway for $8.99.

kona and safeway settle lawsuit

Kona coffee beans. Creative Commons photo.

Thurston’s lawyers and Safeway have come to undisclosed terms to settle the lawsuit, according to court papers filed last month. The Kona Coffee Farmers Association says it is disappointed by the suit’s dismissal. It “leaves unresolved what they believe is the key question raised by the lawsuit—that is, Does use of the name ‘Kona’ on packages of coffee containing little, if any, coffee actually grown in Kona violate federal and state consumer protection and fair marketing laws?” the group said in a statement.

The lawsuit originally sought to recover more than $500,000 for consumers who purchased the Safeway Select Kona Blend coffee after August, 2007, arguing that the packaging did not disclose how much of the coffee blend actually contained beans from Hawaii’s Kona region. In 2012, the grocery chain increased the Kona coffee in the blend to a minimum of 10% and changed the labels to reflect that minimum 10% and to disclose that up to 90% of the contents was Latin American-grown coffee.

Kona Coffee Farmers Association President Cecelia Smith says she is disappointed in the quiet dismissal of the suit. “Kona coffee growers had hoped that a court decision on the legal issues in the Safeway case would encourage the Hawaii Legislature and the Hawaii Attorney General to begin providing the types of protections that, for example, California provides to Napa Valley Wine, Idaho to Idaho Potatoes, and Georgia to Vidalia Onions,” Smith says. “We are disappointed that there was no court decision on the issues presented by this case.”