Malt beverage Mojo has Liquor Commission concerned
The State Liquor Commission has scheduled a public hearing next month on whether to authorize sale of a malt beverage that is sold in bottles that the commission's enforcement staff says look too much like spring water bottles.
Irokos Group LLC of Boston wants approval for food store sale of three flavors of its Mojo malt beverage.
Mojo is packaged in slim plastic containers that some say make it look more like high-end "designer" water bottles than an alcoholic beverage container.
"I think it's a very bad perception of the product," said Sidiki Fadika, a principal in Irokos Group. "It's a new concept plastic bottle; we're trying to make it convenient to walk around with at parties and on dance floors for night clubs."
Fadika says his company is thinking "outside the box" by importing the product, which is made and packaged in Canada.
Mojo is sold in Massachusetts, Vermont and seven other states, with an alcohol content of 7 percent.
But in New Hampshire, 7 percent alcohol content makes the product a malt liquor, which takes it off the convenience store and supermarket shelves and sweeps it into the state liquor stores.
Irokos wants to sell a New Hampshire version of Mojo containing 5.9 percent alcohol so that it qualifies as a malt beverage, rather than a malt liquor. That would make the product available at any market or mom and pop variety store with a license to sell beer.
The product is a new entrant into the flavored malt beverage category that is sometimes referred to as alcopop for the sweet flavorings added to capture a younger market.
Fadika compares his product to some of the flavored malt beverage category leaders.
"We compete with Smirnoff Ice and Mike's Hard Lemonade, we want to be next to (them) on the shelves," Fadika said, explaining his decision to lower the alcohol content to qualify the product for sale in convenience stores.
The state Liquor Commission's Division of Enforcement said it opposes sale of the product because, in addition to being sold in containers that look like water bottles, " the products are clear liquid, resembling water."
Fadika says his brand is being targeted unfairly, and that its composition and bottle styles are not intended to encourage illegal use.
"Anybody can pour beer in a soda bottle and drink it in a public area; shampoo comes in a plastic bottle, do we want to ban shampoo?" he said.
The application Irokos filed with the commission is for Mojo-branded malt beverages with tropical fruit, strawberry kiwi and fruit punch flavoring.
Fadika calls the product "refreshing" and says he runs a responsible company that markets to responsible drinkers.
"I am frustrated that people are trying to give it a bad image for something so simple," he said. "This product is the same as Smirnoff Ice."
Flavored malt liquors suffered a binge of bad publicity a few years ago when another product, Four Loko, came under Food and Drug Administration scrutiny for its use of additives included caffeine in beverages that ranged from 5 percent to 12 percent alcohol, depending on the jurisdiction. The beverage was reformulated more than two years ago.
The liquor commission will decide after the public hearing whether to overturn the recommendation from the enforcement division and permit the sale of the beverage in New Hampshire.