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Nearly 50-year-old Maui firm is closing

Distributor Tanikai hit by economic impacts of novel coronavirus

Tanikai employee Rolando Mendoza poses with some of the last remaining inventory at the Wailuku warehouse. The nearly 50-year-old business will close Thursday. — TANIKAI photo

A nearly 50-year-old local Maui distributor of cookies, candy and local products to Valley Isle retailers will close Thursday in large part due to economic impacts associated with the coronavirus.

“Due to many changes in this industry including COVID-19, we are sad to say we are going to be closing our doors for the last time,” Tanikai Inc. said in a statement. “We are so blessed to have proudly served Maui County for almost 50 years. We have made forever long-lasting friendships with our mom-and-pop stores including chain stores that we will always remember.”

Tanikai Inc. had up to 200 accounts on Maui and serviced retailers, including Foodland, Safeway, Times, CVS and ABC Stores, as well as hotels and vending machines all over the island, said Vice President Leanne Ota on Friday.

Vending machines still will operate with former employees taking over that part of the business, Ota said.

“It’s so sad. We are so sad. All of our employees have been here for a really long time. They are just like family. You work with them for so long,” Ota said of the 20 employees of the company.

The business had taken a financial beating for weeks since Maui’s economy shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic. Ota said the company had to lay off some employees prior to the closing.

The coronavirus impacts struck Tanikai as the industry landscape was changing. Larger national stores were moving to Maui, bringing with them their way of doing business and their corporate distributors. Local distributors were not in their business model, Ota said.

As a result, Tanikai had been seeking a buyer, and actually found one — but the deal fell through. With the economic downturn, the decision was made to close down, Ota said.

Amid the economic crisis, people are not buying snacks now; their money is going to essentials, such as meat, rice and toilet paper, she said.

Many Maui retailers, especially the mom-and-pop shops, will need to find new distributors for their goods.

Tanikai’s products and brands included Aloha Shoyu, Hula Brand, Noh Food, Keebler Cookies, Diamond Bakery, Hawaiian Candy, Ono Hawaiian Seasoning, Duracell batteries, Itoen and national brands of candy, including Nestle, Hershey, M&M Mars and Wrigley.

Jerry Masaki, general manager of Pukalani Superette, was saddened to hear about Tanikai’s closing but was not surprised knowing that the local distribution market was changing with the entry of larger corporate businesses on Maui.

Items Tanikai supplied to Pukalani Superette included Aloha Shoyu and Anahola Granola.

“I always think to work with the local vendors. I try to support them as much as we can, because the money that we spend with them stays on Maui,” Masaki said. “We try to work with the local vendors first.”

It may be a few cents cheaper to buy products elsewhere, but local vendors are “easier to deal with,” he said And they “back their product 100 percent, and they service you,” Masaki said.

“Whenever you need help, they help you, same time, we help them,” he continued.

He is in the process of working with other distributors and local manufacturers to fill the Tanikai void. Because the news of the closing was sudden, in the last several weeks, Masaki said vendors still are working to secure which products they can bring in.

“I wish the best for everyone at Tanikai, and for all of the other local businesses to continue, everyone supporting one another,” Masaki said.

The closing was personal to Masaki, who had two stints with the original owners of Tanikai, George and Jeanette Kadokawa, in the late 1970s and then the 1980s.

The Kadokawas created Tanikai in 1971. The couple and their five children helped grow the business, Ota said. Initial products included Jade Seed Candies, Diamond Bakery, Frito Lay and Knudsen juices.

In 1987, the family sold Tanikai to Hawaiian Host. Then in 1993, Hawaiian Host sold Tanikai to Dennis Ouchi, Ota’s father. Ouchi diversified Tanikai and began to carry products, such as Aloha Shoyu, national brands of candy and Duracell batteries.

Ouchi retired in 2016. Longtime employee Steven Saito, now president of the company, and Ota took over. They moved Tanikai to its current location at 890 Lower Main St. in Wailuku, the former Standard Furniture showroom.

Tanikai is selling its remaining inventory for 30 percent off. They are open from 8 a.m to 3:30 p.m. today. They will be open the same hours Monday to Thursday if inventory is still in stock.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.

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