King’s Hawaiian

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King’s Hawaiian never disappoints with its bread products that are consistently baked to perfection. The bread is always soft and fluffy with just the right amount of sweetness. “Nothing else comes close to our product and our recipe is the main thing that sets us apart,” says Courtney Taira, granddaughter of founder Robert Taira and consumer care department lead. “For us it’s all about the quality. It has to be 100 percent correct or it doesn’t go out.” 

Although the company is based in Torrance, Calif., Robert R. Taira founded King’s Hawaiian in Hilo, Hawaii in the 1950s when he opened his first bake shop – Robert’s Bakery – after graduating at the top of his baking class. The first round, soft loaves of original recipe King’s Hawaiian Sweet Bread were made there and a local traditional favorite was born. 

After growing in popularity, the original shop moved to King Street in Honolulu where it was renamed King’s Bakery. “It didn’t take long for the new location to become a beloved institution as locals lined up around the block for Robert’s famous breads and cakes, which were prepared and served with ‘aloha spirit,’ an expression of caring and sharing that is an essential part of island culture,” the company says.

Inspired to spread the aloha spirit to the mainland in the 1970s, a 24,000-square-foot bakery was built in Torrance and named King’s Hawaiian. “He came out here with no customers; just a passion and an excellent product,” Courtney Taira says about her grandfather. “The business thrived however, as consumers gobbled up the irresistible product. Up until five years ago we didn’t have a marketing team. We grew by word of mouth; people trying it and learning about us from others.” 

King’s Hawaiian is celebrating its 65th anniversary this year and Taira says the family is grateful for how well the company is doing and happy about the place it is at today. “More and more of the family are working together. At times there are three generations working together,” she adds. “The growth of the company has been amazing. I never imagined that we could be this big.”

Broad Appeal

King’s Hawaiian has a broad appeal and its target consumers are men and women with children, and those who like to entertain and host events. The consistent product quality is what keeps its customers coming back. “The second generation runs the company and is uncompromising when it comes to the product quality,” Vice President of Marketing Erick Dickens says. 

Throughout a majority of King’s Hawaiian’s history, new customers were attracted to the brand through word of mouth. The company made the decision two years ago to change that and began a national advertising campaign. “We have seen incredible results with that outreach,” Dickens notes. “King’s Hawaiian has always been a brand people have heard of, but never heard from. They are responding positively to hearing from us.”

Although this is the first time King’s Hawaiian is advertising to the public, the company has always had world-class consumer interaction. For example, when the company develops a new product it sends samples to its consumers to find out what they think of it before launching. It also proactively reaches out to consumers who send in notes of praise with personal letters, samples and King’s Hawaiian gear. On the rare occasion it receives a complaint or concern though, Dickens says the company provides a thorough response, often times with a family member like Courtney Taira personally reaching out.

Expansive Growth

King’s Hawaiian operated two bakeries in Torrance up until 2011 when it expanded into Georgia, opening an additional line at a new bakery to meet increased demand. 

“For a long time we dealt with the problem of not producing enough, but we overcame that with the new facility in Georgia,” Taira says. 

The company wanted to find a location east of the Mississippi River to lower its distribution costs to the East Coast and increase operational efficiency. King’s Hawaiian has now opened two lines in Georgia and will be opening a third line this month. “Georgia was an attractive state because of government incentives and the labor force,” Dickens explains. “We will soon have more employees in Georgia than we have in Torrance.” 

King’s Hawaiian’s culture is centered on the “aloha spirit” that emphasizes certain values in people, which the company looks for when hiring. “We hire based on values of excellence, dignity and telling it like it is in a way that can be heard,” Taira says. “We want everyone to work and strive for excellence, treat everyone like you want to be treated when you conduct business and try to be as efficient as possible by being open and transparent.”

When expanding to the new location, King’s Hawaiian looked for a workforce that would understand the importance of the company’s culture, live it daily and embody those values. “The family isn’t necessarily going to be there everyday, so we wanted a workforce who would understand that culture is important to us and people in Georgia embraced it,” Taira adds. “It’s good Southern hospitality that matches up with our aloha spirit. It was a good match.”

Greater Efficiency

Although finding the perfect location for its new bakery was critical to King’s Hawaiian’s growth, the company also ensured it had state-of-the-art machinery and processes in place. “All our machinery is custom-made for us,” Taira says. “My uncle and dad have flown everywhere to get the best and newest equipment for our product. We have a very unique process. Instead of taking standard machinery and adjusting our recipe, we customize our machinery around the recipe.” 

Each line in the Georgia facility took a year to complete. The company is always looking to learn and improve its processes, so it carried over the things that work well in its first bakery to the new facility, upgraded some of its machinery and improved its processes. “When we built our first bakery [in Torrance] we learned a ton,” Taira adds. “Our machinery and product are super unique, so we are always looking to learn from what we do.” 

Moving forward, King’s Hawaiian is working to become a global company and distribute outside the United States. 

“Operationally we are still looking at the most efficient way to do that,” Dickens says. “There are feasible options to ship finished goods. We are doing the proper research on how to best sell the product internationally, maybe positioning the product in a different way, for example, as a breakfast item in some areas. We are looking into that and being smart about how we go about expanding our distribution.” 

 King’s Hawaiian is also working to develop new products in addition to its bread that it anticipates might hit shelves next year. “We would like to be known as a Hawaiian foods company, not just as a bread and bakery company,” Dickens says. “We will continue to innovate and develop new products outside of bread and become a global company.”

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