Brian Tanigawa, Aloha Shoyu Company Ltd.
Aloha Shoyu: Tried, true and transforming
Hawai‘i is home for our company. Although we’ve expanded to the mainland, first in California and now in Las Vegas, we’re still a local, traditional Hawai‘i company.
Aloha Shoyu Company Ltd. was started in 1946 by five local families, three of which are still active on the board. I represent the third generation and my son and my cousin’s son are with us as part of our succession plan.
One of the things we’re doing, is consolidating operations. Our primary production is in Pearl City with offices, warehousing distribution and sales in Kapolei. We purchased a property in Kapolei and are in the process of building it out. For instance, we have moved our bottle manufacturing operation there. We bring in some bottles from the mainland but for the most part, we try to manufacture as much as we can locally, like our gallon jugs.
Growth at home
We recently acquired Malolo Beverages and Supplies. To the consumer it may be best-known for its syrup line. In the foodservice industry though, it is known as a distributor of a wide range of supplies from disposable cups, tapa-print food trays and containers, utensils and additional paper goods, as well as products from condiments to cleaning supplies. For us it’s a very similar company. Locally owned — family owned, with traditional local values that we all share.
There are synergies with respect to the customer base. Many of our customers would possibly be Malolo customers and vice-versa. We both carry the types of products that people will use. We brought on about 15 employees and we are operating out of Kalihi until we can build out additional space in our Kapolei facility.
Also an ESOP
We’re a minority ESOP (employee stock ownership plan) with 65 to 75 current and former employees participating. The benefit is offered to employees after a vesting period. I think that makes a difference in that we all work together to move the company forward and share the successes. We’re all shareholders.
We are so grateful that the people of Hawai‘i support us and our products. With about 65 percent of the shoyu market share in Hawai‘i, we realized years ago the need to grow. Production was expanded to the mainland where people were looking for Hawai‘i products. Hawai‘i has gotten to be more sales-saturated for us and by going to the mainland and setting up shop there, it’s really an opportunity for expansion and growth — and yet our roots are still in Hawai‘i. We set up e-commerce on our website where people can buy a variety of Aloha Shoyu food products, but also branded merchandise like caps, T-shirts and saimin bowls (the latter is currently sold-out). We’re working to expand on that area.
Food trends help the brand
The growth trend in Asian cuisine has been a great opportunity for us. Another trend has seen our gluten-free shoyu, which is lower in sodium than regular shoyu, and our tamari, which is also gluten-free, take off. We also recently started a line of dressings (Ginger Sesame Miso; Ginger; Black Sesame; Ume Shiso) and a kalbi short-rib marinade. We work with our customers to bring their recipes to market.
Out of our Las Vegas facility we partner with Samurai Brand’s “Hawaiian Frost” ice cream product and work with hotels, buffets and other outlets. We also work with other Hawai‘i brands like Purity Sausage, Sun Noodle and others. We try to align with local partners and companies to showcase their products out of our facility.
We’re really appreciative of the support from local people, local chefs and restaurants and in turn, we try to give back to the community. We support Big Brothers/Big Sisters with scholarships. I’m a pharmacist by training so we fund a scholarship to the U.H. Hilo Pharmacy program. And whenever Kristi Yamaguchi comes down for an event we support her Always Dream Foundation. (Editor’s note: Olympic gold medalist Kristi Yamaguchi is the celebrity face of Aloha Shoyu Gold premium soy sauce.) We do additional giving back to the community through other partnerships. We align with people we think we can do more with together, than we can do individually.
Working with chefs like Sam Choy, Russell Siu, James Aptakin and Las Vegas chef Terrence Fong, is good. When you can work together with the chefs, it makes a difference in the business. We’re open to working with other chefs too, all they need to do, is ask. The main thing is, economically, whether it makes sense.
Behind its longevity
Much of the credit for our longevity goes to our management team and their level of commitment and loyalty to the company. It’s outstanding actually. In my mind, our people who shine share simple character basics including reliability, dependability, integrity, and we’re local-style. We’ve had to incorporate a corporate structure in what we do, but when it comes down to taking care of our people, our employees have the committment from me but also from the board of directors.
Forefathers (and mothers)
In addition to the three original families who have representation on the board, I think we have other board members who are also somehow related, because it was such a family oriented-type of company in the beginning, which has stood the test of time. We may not be your typical corporate-type board, but a family oriented type of board. We have an attorney, my cousin who is into real estate; another board member has a fairly good-sized security business, and so on. We couldn’t do it without the people before us.
The bottom line is, we’re a small local company. Bigger is not always better, but if we have an opportunity, we want to try.