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Hawaii to lose its last pineapple cannery

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HONOLULU — Hawaii will see its last pineapple cannery close June 30 when Maui Land & Pineapple Co. stops canning operations in Kahului.

The company said last week that it will continue to sell fresh fruit and to process pineapple juice.

"This consolidation is necessary as we work to develop a profitable business model for our pineapple company," said David Cole, chairman, president and chief executive of Maui Land & Pine.

"We are in a situation where we need to cut some jobs to save many others," he said. "Fortunately the bulk of our agricultural work force is concentrated in our fresh fruit segment."

Maui Land & Pine's cutback comes after Fresh Del Monte Produce Inc. abruptly ended its operations in Hawaii in November, leaving Dole Foods Hawaii the only grower on Oahu.

With higher labor and land costs, island pineapple growers have lost market share to foreign growers and processors in Ecuador, Mexico and Costa Rica.

"By discontinuing operations that are no longer competitive, we are able to concentrate on the fresh fruit segment where we have best chance for achieving and sustaining a niche market for Maui-grown pineapple," Cole said.

The end of canning will eliminate 120 jobs, or 27 percent of Maui Land & Pine's work force, although some of the affected workers may be transferred to its fresh fruit packing and juice processing operations.

The company is working with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union to assist employees during the transition.

"At the local level, we are working diligently to ensure the affected employees are taken care of," said Willie Kennison, Maui division director for the ILWU. "We are working with the company to look at all available avenues to assist these employees."

The giant Dole Cannery near downtown Honolulu was closed in 1991, with its main buildings now featuring a theater and shopping complex. Dole's pineapple plantation on Oahu remains a popular tourist attraction, with recently expanded attractions and souvenir shop.

Dole still grows pineapples on 3,000 acres it owns in central Oahu.

Fresh pineapple production and sales of Hawaii pineapples last year hit their lowest levels since the state began keeping records on the industry more than half a century ago. The crop was estimated at $75.5 million, down from $79.3 million in 2005 despite higher prices.