EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

May 14, 2013

Malt beverage causing a stir in NH

State Liquor Commission has concerns about fruity malt beverage

By Doug Ireland
direland@eagletribune.com

---- — It’s colorful, fruit flavored and causing quite a controversy in the Granite State.

Don’t be surprised if Mojo — a unique malt beverage — doesn’t make its way onto New Hampshire store shelves. But it is sold in Massachusetts.

The state Liquor Commission held a public hearing last week on an appeal by Irokos Group LLC of Boston to allow Mojo to be sold in state liquor stores. A decision is expected this week.

Three weeks ago, the commission voted not to grant permission for the drink to be sold in New Hampshire because the clear plastic bottles could be easily confused with water bottles. Irokos objected to the decision.

The commission, led by Chairman Joseph Mollica, determined the alcohol content listed on the bottle labels was difficult to read. Consumers could easily mistake Mojo for a nonalcoholic beverage, the commission said.

But in more than a dozen states across the country where Mojo is sold, there have been no concerns with the product or its packaging, according to Irokos manager Sidiki Fadika.

That includes Massachusetts, where Mojo — containing 7 percent alcohol — has been sold for several years, he said.

Some Merrimack Valley retailers said they either won’t sell Mojo or have stopped doing so. Their reasons are concerns over packaging. They said the drink simply doesn’t sell well.

The plastic bottle wasn’t a concern for the Bay State retailers interviewed. Mojo comes in three flavors: tropical fruit, strawberry kiwi and fruit punch.

Fadika was reluctant to speak about Mojo until the N.H. Liquor Commission rules on his appeal. He said the commission asked him to provide additional information on his product, but he was not at liberty to discuss it.

The commission refused to comment on the beverage before the decision.

But Fadika did say he doesn’t understand why Mojo could spark a controversy when the bottles are clearly labeled as alcohol. Mojo is no different than any other malt beverage on store shelves, he said.

“If your product is harmful, I would understand that,” Fadika said. “The discussion is all about packaging. The packaging clearly states it contains alcohol.”

Fadika said his small company has a solid reputation.

“We are a very responsible company and we don’t want it to be controversial,” he said.

Fadika said he hopes Mojo could be sold at New Hampshire grocery stores such as Market Basket, but its alcohol content would have to be reduced before that could happen. Otherwise, it could only be sold in state liquor stores.

Mojo is available at dozens of liquor and convenience stores in Massachusetts, but some store employees said sales were not impressive. One Andover store representative said it took seven months to sell four cases of the drink.

The Vineyard in North Andover sold Mojo for about six months before stopping distribution two years ago, manager Kerry Dwyer said.

“It wasn’t a good market for us,” she said. “You have to make room for new things.”

Some customers said they really liked Mojo during a tasting at the store, she said, but few bought it.

Mount Vernon Liquor Store in Lawrence sells Mojo, just not a lot of it, manager Pat Patel said. It’s mostly purchased by women, he said.

“It doesn’t sell that much,” he said.