Auction of Maui Pineapple Cannery Marks the End of an Era

One hundred years of Hawaiian pineapple canning history will come to a close with the auction sale of the Maui Pineapple Cannery on October 30. The announcement by the Maui Land and Pineapple Co., owners of Maui Pineapple, follows a steady decline of pineapple canning operations in the Hawaiian Islands over the past 25 years. The auction is expected to attract fruit and vegetable producers from the Pacific West Coast to Southeast Asia, and will include all of the company’s canning machinery plus five million pounds of tin plate used to make cans. The sale will be conducted both live and over the Internet by Rabin Worldwide at the Maui Beach Hotel in Kahului, Maui.

According to Jack Auten, former engineer of Dole Pineapple who now resides in Bangkok, Thailand, “The superior Hawaiian pineapple was not sufficient to offset the higher costs of the raw material supply chain, distance to European markets, and the comparative cost of labor in the Hawaiian Islands to Thailand, the primary producer of the world’s pineapple supply.” Auten also notes that, “Current pineapple production at the Dole and Maui Pineapple fresh fruit operations represents less than 2% of the world’s production.”

Hawaiian pineapple first came on the scene in the late 19th century with the development of a “smooth cayenne” variety by Captain John Kidwell. However, the big boost in the industry’s popularity came from a young Harvard graduate named James Dole, whose cousin Sanford Dole was at the time territorial governor. James Dole started a small canning operation at his Wahiawa Plantation in 1903, which was relocated to the larger Iwilei Cannery in 1907, currently the site of the Dole Cannery commercial complex on Oahu.

By 1921, pineapple canning was a booming business in Hawaii with pineapple the largest agricultural crop, and pineapple canning Hawaii’s largest industry. By 1950, there were eight pineapple canning facilities in the Hawaiian Islands, employing over 3,000 full-time workers, and representing 80% of the world’s pineapple production. Over the next ten years, the workforce doubled, adding seasonal workers as well as high school students for peak harvesting and cannery operations.

In the late 1960’s, Dole and Del Monte, two of Hawaii’s largest processors, commenced more cost effective operations in the Philippines, due to the high cost of acquiring tinplate for cans, fiber for boxes, fertilizers for agriculture, in addition to fuel oil and higher labor costs. At the same time, Libby McNeil began like operations in Africa, which resulted in the closing of smaller facilities on the islands including Kauai Pineapple and Haserot Cannery of Maui.

Over the next decade, the further reduction in the island’s canning industry resulted in Libby McNeil’s consolidation with Dole. Dole did continue to farm Libby’s leased Molokai Plantation for an additional two years before ceasing operations on the island. Soon thereafter, Dole expanded its Far East operations at its first Thailand cannery. A dramatic expansion of the Thailand pineapple industry followed to bring Thailand to its position today as the primary producer of the world’s canned pineapple and pineapple juice concentrate.

By 1985, the negative comparative economics of the Hawaiian canning industry resulted in the closings of Del Monte’s Honolulu cannery, and Dole’s Iwilei Oahu Cannery, best known for its old pineapple water tower landmark. Though both continued fresh fruit and concentrate operations in the islands, Del Monte finally called in quits in 2006, with its leased agricultural lands reverting back to the Campbell Estate.

Through continued research and investment in pineapple productivity and agronomic development, Maui Pineapple withstood the test of time against superior competitive economics. The development of the now popular Champaka clone of their “Hawaiian Gold” product line has led to continued success in the fresh fruit business, which the company plans to continue, serving the USA west coast market.

Complete details and pictures of over 600 items to be sold at the auction can be viewed at A plant-wide inspection will take place on October 29, or earlier by appointment. Though the auction will mark an end point in the history of the Hawaiian pineapple industry, Hawaiians can still say “Hawaii Pineapple No Ka Oi” (Hawaii Pineapple is the best).