Editor's Note: Originally aired in August 2007.
Wade Balidoy has a thing for Minnesota’s most maligned meat product. "I grew up on SPAM," the Hawaii elementary school teacher says. "I eat SPAM at least once a week."
His SPAM consumption may be even greater now that Wade has been named Hawaii’s "Mr. SPAM,” entitling him to a year’s supply, 365 cans of the processed pink pork." Mr. SPAM," would not be a coveted title in some parts of the country, but it is in Hawaii.
Hawaiians make up less than one-half of one percent of the U.S. population, but consume seven percent of the nation’s SPAM. Hawaiians eat 16 times more SPAM per capita than the rest of the country. No states, including populated New York and California, eat more SPAM than tiny Hawaii.
"It’s a special meat," Hawaii author Ann Kondo Corum says. Her two Hawaii SPAM cookbooks have combined to sell more than 50,000 copies."People have an emotional attachment to SPAM because we grew up with it," Corum said.
World War II airmen and sailors are often given credit for introducing SPAM to the Aloha State. Hawaii was isolated during the war and fresh meat was scarce.
"And there was SPAM waiting for us," Ann says. SPAM is still waiting for Hawaiians at their local supermarkets, in varieties unfamiliar to most Minnesotans, including garlic SPAM, honey SPAM, SPAM with bacon and hot and spicy SPAM. But Hawaii’s love for what Minnesota crams in that little blue can runs much deeper.
Hawaiians flock to convenience stores at breakfast, lunch and dinner to grab SPAM Musubi. The size of a SPAM can, but only half as tall, a Musubi consists of a slice of SPAM and a hearty portion of rice in a seaweed wrap.
Hawaii’s 7-Eleven stores sell an average of 200 SPAM Musubi a day at each of its island locations. That compares to 50 hot dogs.
"Way more SPAM," Glenn Nagatori, president and general manager of 7-Eleven Hawaii says."I’m going to get one and support my brothers in Minnesota," said Rodney Hamao as he grabbed a SPAM Musubi from a 7-Eleven food warmer.
In truth he didn’t pay much attention to where SPAM came from until a visiting news crew pointed out the Hormel Foods name and Austin, Minnesota address on a SPAM can label. "I’ve heard of Austin, Texas," he said. "I’m sorry I haven’t heard of Austin, Minnesota."
Hawaiian’s may not know Hormel, but they can’t escape its best known product. Five years ago Hawaii’s 75 McDonald’s restaurants added SPAM to their breakfast platters.
Melanie Okazaki, a McDonald’s Hawaii marketing manager, says the chain’s SPAM platters are now its most popular. "It’s definitely a customer favorite," she says.
That said, it shouldn’t be surprising that Hawaii’s Burger King restaurants will be adding SPAM to their breakfast menu’s starting May 21. In addition to offering SPAM as part of an egg and rice platter, it will also be featured in Burger King’s breakfast Croissanwich.
"We have special tastes in Hawaii," Burger King’s Joey Nakamura says. "So we want to make sure we cater to those people."
Five years ago Honolulu’s Waikiki beach began honoring SPAM with its own annual festival. The 2007 edition of the Waikiki SPAM Jam, held the last Saturday in April, attracted several thousand people who listened to live music and sampled SPAM food items concocted by several Honolulu restaurants.
It’s also where Wade Balidoy was named “Mr. SPAM.” He was selected by the crowd after reading the Dr. Seuss-themed essay he composed for the contest. "I will eat SPAM the rest of my life. Even share a can with my wife."
You get the idea. Wade may be Mr. SPAM, but Hormel Group Product Manager Swen Neufeldt also got a bit of the rock star treatment when he visited SPAM Jam for the first time this year.
"Coming here," he laughed, "you tell someone you’re the SPAM guy and they say ‘you’ve got the coolest job in the world, where do you get promoted from there.’"
And now you know how the Land of 10,000 Stories puts a little pig into paradise.