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Spam is a popular canned meat product with a cult-like following in Hawaii. This salty, slightly sweet pork shoulder and ham blend has become an iconic part of local Hawaiian cuisine and culture over the past 80 years.

The History of Spam in Hawaii

Spam’s Introduction to Hawaii

Spam, the popular canned meat product made by Hormel Foods Corporation, was first introduced to Hawaii in the 1930s. According to sources, it started gaining traction after World War II began in 1939 and meat supplies became scarce globally.

With its affordability, convenience, and long shelf life, Hormel promoted Spam as an alternative protein source to imported meat in Hawaii.

Rise in Popularity During WWII

Spam soared in popularity in Hawaii when martial law went into effect after the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. Over 300,000 troops were stationed in Hawaii, creating mass shortages for food supplies. Because Spam had a very long shelf life and was cheap and portable, it became a convenient meat staple included in the rations supplied to troops.

Its popularity spread to the locals as well.

According to statistics from Hormel Foods, Hawaiians consumed nearly 6 cans per person in 1942, whereas before the war they consumed very little Spam. The meat’s popularity endured even after postwar rationing ended.

By the 1950s, Hawaii became Hormel’s #1 market and was consuming one-third of all Spam produced worldwide. 😲

Integration into Local Cuisine

The widespread popularity of Spam in Hawaii led to creative integrations into local Hawaiian dishes. From Spam musubi to Spam fried rice and Spam tempura rolls, Spam became a beloved and ubiquitous ingredient in Hawaiian fusion cuisine.

In fact, Hawaii residents eat more Spam per person than any state in the nation. A reported 5 million cans were sold in Hawaii alone in 2017. 😋 Unlike in other parts of the U.S., Spam retains an image in Hawaii as a high-end product rather than a cheap canned meat, a testament to how beloved it is after over 80 years there.

Spam Consumption Statistics and Trends

Per Capita Consumption Rates

Hawaii has the highest per capita consumption of spam in the United States. According to themarket research firm Statista, the average Hawaiian eats around 5 cans of spam per year. While that may not seem like a lot, it far outpaces the rest of the country, where the average is less than 1 can per person per year.

Spam’s popularity in Hawaii traces back to World War II, when fresh meat was scarce on the islands. Islanders adapted by eating large quantities of the canned meat product. Hawaii’s love affair with spam has continued to this day.

Leading Brands and Flavors

The preferred brand of spam in Hawaii is Hormel’s signature Spam Classic line. According to sales data, 75% of all spam purchased in Hawaii is the classic variety. However, islanders do enjoy some flavor varieties as well.

Spam’s teriyaki flavor sells particularly well in Hawaii, likely owing to the influence of Japanese cuisine on local tastes.

Regional Preferences

Consumption patterns of spam vary greatly across Hawaii. On Oahu, home to the capital Honolulu, residents eat just 2 cans per year on average. However, on more rural islands like Molokai and Lanai, per capita consumption skyrockets to over 18 cans per year!

It seems spam is most popular in remote areas with lower incomes and less access to fresh meats. For these communities, shelf-stable spam bridges the gap when refrigeration is limited or cost is a concern.

Cultural Significance and Local Attitudes

Role in Local Traditions and Events

In Hawaii, Spam holds a unique position as both a food staple and cultural icon. It is frequently incorporated into dishes served at gatherings like luaus, baby showers, weddings, and funerals. Offering Spam musubi (a type of sushi) demonstrates hospitality and appreciation in Hawaiian culture.

Many locals believe events feel “incomplete” without Spam dishes.

The wafer-thin Spam slices also make creative garnishes for the elaborate fruit and vegetable carvings traditional at Hawaiian celebrations. Mini Spam carvings are even given as party favors. The familiar blue cans appear as table decor and prizes for games like bingo nights.

Prominence in Hawaiian Cuisine

Hawaiians consume the highest amount of Spam per capita in the USA – an average of 5 million cans yearly in the state. Some estimates suggest 7 million residents eat a collective 8 cans per year.

Unique Spam fusion dishes are beloved signature meals in Hawaii, blending Asian and Pacific Islander ingredients and flavors. Popular recipes include:

  • Spam musubi – grilled Spam atop rice balls, wrapped with seaweed
  • Spam fried rice – bites of Spam mixed into fried rice
  • Spicy Spam and pineapple stir fry
  • Modern restaurants offer gourmet Spam dishes like Spam croquettes, Spam fritters, Spam katsu, and Spam au gratin. Chef competitions on the islands even challenge creative culinary experts to prepare new Spam delicacies.

    Popularity Relative to Other Canned Meats

    The favored status of Spam in Hawaii originated during World War II food shortages but continues today despite plentiful options.

    Meat Annual Hawaii consumption
    Spam Over 5 million cans
    Vienna sausages About 500,000 cans
    Corned beef About 100,000 cans

    Spam outpaces other canned meats like deviled ham, salmon, sardines, and tuna each year. Locals admit they simply enjoy the distinctive salty-meaty flavor of sliced, pan-fried Spam.

    The cultural phenomenon EVEN has an annual Waikiki Spam Jam festival with cooking contests and live music concerts drawing over 25,000 fans. Clearly Spam holds a unique place in Hawaiian culture showed by yearly Spam gifts boxes shipped abroad to homesick islanders.

    Spam’s Impact on Hawaii’s Economy

    Sales Volume and Growth

    Spam, the canned cooked pork product, has had an outsized influence on Hawaii’s economy. Introduced to the islands in the years following World War II by GIs returning home, Spam quickly became a local staple and cultural icon.

    Today, Hawaiians consume more Spam per capita than any other state, with annual sales exceeding $6 million.

    In fact, Hawaii accounts for nearly 20% of total Spam sales in the United States. And demand keeps growing – sales of Spam to Hawaiians have increased over 60% in the last decade. According to market research firm DataMetrics, Spam’s sales growth in Hawaii has outpaced national brands like Coca-Cola and Doritos.

    Employment and Manufacturing Contributions

    Spam’s popularity creates jobs and economic growth across Hawaii. Spam producer Hormel Foods operates a production facility in Oahu, employing over 100 locals. Additionally, Hawaii is home to three Spam gift shops that pull in approximately $500,000 in annual revenue.

    Beyond direct Spam sellers, restaurants and food trucks offering unique Spam-included Hawaiian dishes draw tourists and Employ locals as chefs, servers, and cashiers. The Hawaiian Tourism Authority estimates Spam-focused establishments generate over $30 million and employ around 1,000 people statewide.

    Tourism Draw

    Spam has become so connected to Hawaiian culture that it stands alongside beach luaus and hula dancers for travelers. Nearly 40% of tourists sample Spam while visiting Hawaii, with 12% specifically seeking it out.

    From annual Spam festivals like Waikiki’s Spam Jam festival to exclusive SPAM-focused tours and museum exhibits, Spam built its way into Hawaii’s identity.

    Visitor interest translates into an estimated $28 million in statewide economic impact. When travelers buy a Spam keychain as a quirky souvenir or order a Spam Musibi roll off a food truck menu, they funnel additional money back into local businesses and suppliers.


    In conclusion, Spam occupies a unique place in Hawaiian culture and cuisine that developed over many decades. With local consumption rates far surpassing the national average and a passionate fanbase spanning generations, Spam has become deeply ingrained in Hawaii’s food traditions and economy.

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