Stacey Higashi, who’s in charge of the company’s sales and marketing, takes it as a point of pride that Jade Foods has managed to grow a little each year. Today, Jade is a far-flung operation. In addition to the orchard in California, supplies come in from across Asia. Deanne travels regularly to rural areas of China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan and Thailand to make sure she gets the best ingredients. Higashi points out that quality is critical for Jade Foods. Because production costs are so high in Hawai‘i, Jade seed is always more expensive than imported seed.
“We don’t want to just survive,” says Higashi, “we want to thrive. Deanne has children who should inherit all this.” But this is a tough business. In order to compete with the importers who supply most of the crack seed in Hawai‘i, Higashi says Jade simply has to offer a better product. But even packaging seed is a time-consuming, labor-intensive process, especially for the wet
varieties. Jade uses one-of-a-kind machinery to bag seed, but the ladies in the back still have to carefully weigh the fruit into individual plastic tubs, and then dump these tubs one at a time into the bagging machine.
Those of a certain age remember when crack seed only came out of an enormous glass jar. Now, most seed is sold in plastic bags at the grocery store—only a few shops do enough volume to rely on glass jars. That old-time feel is what keeps customers coming back to places like Seed City in Pearl Ridge, the Crack Seed Store in Kaimuki and the Crack Seed Center in Ala Moana.
The Crack Seed Center, which opened in 1959 as one of the original stores in the Ala Moana Center, is probably the largest retailer of crack seed in Hawai‘i. It’s also delightfully old-fashioned. Ted Li, who bought the store fifteen years ago, still carries more than 100 kinds of seed, all in glass jars. Every day, 500 to 600 customers come through the store looking for their ration of salted plums or shredded mango. Li says this volume allows him to sell a fresher product. “We cater to the discriminating type of customer,” says Li. “They have to know it’s fresh.”
Many of those customers have been coming to the Crack Seed Center since it first opened. Li says some who’ve moved to the Mainland will visit with their children and say, “Mom and Dad used to come to this store every week.” It’s not uncommon for elderly customers to bring their grandchildren in.