Hamakua Macadamia Nut Company
In 1881, an Australian plant collector and sugar cane plantation manager named William Purvis came to the Big Island of Hawai‘i and brought with him Hawaii’s first macadamia nut tree. He planted it in Kapulena on the Hamakua Coast, and many believe the tree is still growing there today.
The macadamia was named for John Macadam, a scientist, philosopher, and good friend of the Melbourne Botanical Gardens director who first classified and described the tree 33 years earlier. A subtropical evergreen of the Proteaceae family, the macadamia tree can grow up to 40 feet tall, with dark green, holly-like leaves, first used as an ornamental.
Commercial production started in the 1920’s on the western side of Hawai‘i Island in Keauhou-Kona, and in the east, near Honoka‘a. By 1950 Honoka‘a Sugar Company was the largest mac nut producer in the Territory of Hawai‘i, with 450 acres of trees. For the next 20 years the industry “went nuts,” growing exponentially as farming and production methods evolved, until Hawai‘i Island was the world’s largest producer of what was marketed as “the Perfect Nut.”
Today, about 570 growers farm 17,000 acres of macadamia trees, producing 40 million pounds of in-shell nuts, valued at over $30 million. Additionally, nuts are imported from South Africa and Australia, who currently lead the world market, with Hawai‘i at #3. Here on the Island, most macadamia nut growers are small, independent orchards, and that’s where we come in!
Hamakua Macadamia Nut Company
In 1977, Co-Owner Richard Schnitzler came to Hawai‘i from Michigan, to work for Theo H. Davies & Co. sugar operations. From sugar, he moved into macadamia nuts and over the next 12 years worked with some of the largest macadamia nut producers in the state, before founding his own enterprise, Hamakua Macadamia Nut Company, in 1994.
Richard’s philosophy, then and now, is to work with private growers and ensure they get fair treatment and the best possible price for their product. Using only 100% Hawaii-grown macadamia nuts, and employing local Hawaii people, he began a small canning operation in Kawaihae. Soon after, he took a few cans to one of the local Kohala Coast resorts, who were eager to have more. Then, with a loan from the state, Hamakua Macadamia Nut Company added a processing plant and developed a number of private label products for sale.
In 2009, Richard partnered with Edmund C. Olson, self-made success story in the storage business, now venture capitalist with great aloha for Hawai‘i. His family trust has been involved in conserving land for agriculture and wildlife, and Edmund is also an active partner in the 500-acre OK Farms in Hilo and the Ka‘u Coffee Mill, helping farmers succeed in producing world-class coffee without traveling to Kona for processing.
“I couldn’t have picked a better partner,” said Richard. “It’s not about the money for him—and for us—it’s about doing good things with it.” Richard and Edmund are absolutely committed to providing 100% Hawaiian macadamia nuts, 100% of the time, in ways that are economically efficient and environmentally responsible.
“Our goal is to provide a future for the growers, provide jobs for our local workers and produce great products to sell to the world.”
Macadamia nuts are high in monounsaturated fatty acid (“good fat”) which helps reduce overall cholesterol levels. They contain flavonoids (a phytochemical) and tocopherols (vitamin E), which aid in protecting against cancer and heart disease. Macadamia nut oil contains Omega 3 fatty acid, known to reduce the risk of heart disease and high blood pressure. The macadamia nut is one of the few foods that contain Palmitoleic acid, a monounsaturated fatty acid. Palmitoleic acid may aid in fat metabolism, possibly reducing stored body fat.
Hamakua Macadamia Nuts employ sound environmental practices throughout our operation to reduce waste, repurpose by-products and recycle materials wherever possible. For example, all grades (sizes) of nut are used. “Cull” nuts are pressed for macadamia oil, an excellent cooking oil with a high flash point and mild taste. “Dust” is used as an ingredient in ice cream and cookies. Husks are used for compost and the hard shells are burned in a biomass furnace to produce heat for drying the nuts in shell. A large solar energy array will provide up to 75% of total electric energy for the operation.
“We have learned how to do it very well and very efficiently,” said Richard, “We are dedicated to ‘green.’”