An activist group in Brooklyn, N.Y., has demanded that a brand of water be taken off their local market’s shelves, claiming that its packaging, which resembles a bottle of malt liquor, is “detrimental to the community.”
Ounce Water, founded in 2015 by “Sons of Anarchy” star Theo Rossi and his wife Meghan McDermott, has found itself at the center of the controversy in Canarsie after a neighbor went into Food World Supermarket to discover its problematic packaging. According to co-founder McDermott, it’s part of a strategy to make “hydration easy” by packaging water in the well-known 40-ounce design.
“Ounce Water sets a daily goal to consume 80 ounces of water, so we provide 20oz and 40oz bottles to make that math simple,” McDermott tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “The design of our bottle is an old-school nod, and is meant to take something that once was part of poisoning people (malt liquor) and instead fill your bottle with health and life. We are taking a negative and turning it into a positive, and we don’t market the shape of our bottle, strictly market the math and hydration benefits.”
But, after members of Breukelen RISE — an organization looking to serve at-risk youth in the area — pointed out the “traumatic history of malt liquor in the black community,” it seems that the company’s intention isn’t resonating.
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“That history is of high alcohol content, cheap liquors that were sold and heavily promoted through rap music and all kinds of marketing and entertainment,” community member, Christine Gilliam, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “It is a big part of the demise of a community that already feels it’s under attack. So that, in turn, leads to alcoholism.”
Gilliam says that the water bottles have triggered a response from people in her neighborhood who have dealt with substance abuse issues, as well as parents who are concerned about the mixed messages that children might get from Ounce Water’s marketing.
“We know that children emulate adults and what they see to be cool,” Gilliam says. “So you have them going to the store, which just happens to be next to a liquor store where you might see people hanging out drinking 40’s, so you want to emulate that and you can do it with a 40 water. Great, they’re getting nourished as far as the water. But their behavior is emulating that of these people that are consuming alcohol. And it’s like a precursor.”
This concern led Gilliam and other members of the community to ask that Food World Supermarket remove Ounce Water from its shelves. In an agreement with their parent company, Key Foods, the 40-ounce bottles were replaced with the 20-ounce design, which doesn’t resemble the alcoholic beverage as much.
Still, Gilliam says that there’s more that Breukelen RISE would like to do in partnership with Ounce Water to educate the owners on the perception that this packaging has in urban communities, and to work together to change the design.
“We get the water, we get the count of the ounces, but we don’t like the packaging — it’s offensive,” Gilliam says. “I don’t think [Rossi] thought this through, that it would be offensive to people, that it would be traumatizing to people. I don’t think he thought that through.”
McDermott assures that their company is doing what they can to make sure that this community is heard.
“We discussed working with them on their community projects, and bringing in our conversation of the benefits of proper hydration and healthy habits,” McDermott says of the dialogue between Ounce Water and Breukelen RISE. “We are always happy to listen, learn, and grow together with our consumers all in an effort to spread the good word about proper hydration, and making healthier food and beverage decisions for ourselves and our families.”
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