An interview with Albie Manzo on blk. water

You have probably seen the black bottled-waters in stores recently and thought to yourself, “What is that?”. Well, you are not alone. That question is exactly what made me stop and taste blk. at the 2013 Summer Fancy Food Show. Upon stopping at blk.’s booth, I met Louise, one half of the sister duo that founded this unique product. As Louise and I chatted, I learned that she and her sister had originally concocted the fulvic mineral and electrolyte enriched water to strengthen their cancer-stricken mother while enduring chemo. I immediately related to the story, thinking back on my mother’s draining and exhausting days of chemo. My head was reeling with questions: What are fulvic acids and fulvic minerals? How do the elements in blk. benefit one’s health? Why is it black?

Louise suggested I direct my questions to blk.’s VP Marketing, Albie Manzo. Albie was extremely knowledgeable about blk. and all of its natural health benefits. He had a lot to tell DC Life!

How did you first hear about Blk.?

I was walking the trade show with my uncle, who is now our current CEO, and we were walking around at the 2010 Fancy Food Show in NY and Jackie and Louise were behind a booth and they were pouring this drink that looked totally nuts, and we were like “OK, Well what is it?” And when I met them and they were just the nicest people! They gave us a really great rundown of fulvic acid and fulvic minerals and what they were, and it just seemed so interesting and so unique. We thought, “Hey, maybe this is something we can market”.

Immediately, one of the first moves we made was that we flew out to see Jackie and Louise in Vancouver. A few months later, we got a bunch of products sent to our house, and I just started drinking it every single day and I felt like a different person. It was the craziest thing! And I was not the most healthy guy, I mean I had just come out of school a couple of years before, and I had a run-in with the law school that did not go so well. And that’s why I was walking the Food Show because my uncle was trying to help me find something to do with him and a company to start.

What made you want to get involved?

We were both drinking it every single day, and we felt a lot different! I felt my energy level go up. I felt that when I would work out, I would recover much faster. Overall, I just felt a lot more aware. That’s really how we decided that we wanted to be more a part of it!

When we felt such a difference in our day to day, that’s when we really started doing a lot more research in the product itself. I really believed in the ingredient – I really believed in fulvic acid!

A lot of people are at first a little intimidated by the color of Blk. What do you usually say to those people to change their mind?

You know it’s funny if I had a choice right to take the water, maintain every single benefit, and turn it clear… I would not take it. No way. To me, it’s something that we’re really proud of and really celebrates. It’s black because it has to be! It’s not like we’re putting dye in it. And it’s so funny, what a mind game it is, because the most popular drink in the world is coffee, so people are pretty used to drinking black water! It’s really not too different.

Can you tell us about the uniqueness of the water’s color and it’s ingredients?

We take a mineral complex from a natural deposit from the earth, and it is naturally black in color, we add it to the water and that’s what changes its color! There’s nothing in there – no dye, no stain – it’s just a natural reaction when the water meets the complex. And, there are a lot of people who say, “Are people going to want to drink black water?” I always laugh when I use the coffee example, but outside of that, to me it’s what gets people to stop and ask questions. And in this industry, that is so unbelievably priceless, where you have a product that people want to stop, put it in their hands, and say “Hey, what is this? What is it going to do for me?” I have never done that with a bottle of Poland Spring. It’s just something you would never do if it just looked like everything else. And it’s really made our life a little bit easier if you ask me.

We consider ourselves a natural product. We don’t use any chemicals or preservatives. We really celebrate what it is. And one huge reason why I’m such a huge fan of this product is that if you really do a lot of research on just agriculture and the foods we eat, a lot of the habits that we’ve gotten into in agriculture have really depleted our mineral resources. To me, if you really spend a lot of time reading up on this, (which I did when I first joined the company), I think that’s one of the more interesting things you’ll be seeing over the next few years: the mineral deficiency, and all of the problems that we contribute to a lot of different public nutritional issues too. To have over 60 different trace minerals inside is a really big caveat to the drink. And I think that it’s a reason why so many natural food stores latched on to it as early as they did.

How does blk. cater to the health conscious community?

You know, a lot of people now – I get a kick out of it – are saying “I bought this in Duane Reade but I’ve never seen it before!” But we’ve been on the market for two years now. But if you have not gone to a Whole Foods or a Joe’s Natural Food store, you are not familiar with it. We have a really strong following already within the “natural” community. And it’s cool to see that translate now into a little bit more mainstream. And I think the flavors will be a big help to that.

What are some of the health benefits that come with Blk.?

While Jackie and Louise’s mother was undergoing chemo, they wanted to give her something to supplement just her cells on a daily level. Your body is a mix of cells, and the better equipped your cells are to handle just your day to day existence, then the better off your natural health will be. Giving her [their mother] a drink with fulvic acids, that is very rich in minerals, was definitely helpful for her cell structure.

So, after that – you know, Jackie and Louise are actually in the organic syrup industry – as they were making this thing for their mom, they thought that it would be kind of a cool thing to just give it a shot and see how people would respond to it. They were literally taking syrup bottles that they weren’t using, filling it with the water, and bringing it to trade shows, drinking it there and talking to people about it. And a lot of people had an interest in it – including us! We like to say that Jackie and Louise came up with the product, and we all came up with the brand. We started Blk. together, all of us.

Will Blk. be branching out its product line?

We actually have 4 flavors that we will be running in about a week and a half! We’re extremely excited about it! I really couldn’t be more happy with the way everything turned out. They are true to the brand, and what I mean by that is that they wanted something that is all-natural, and they wanted something that was really in the best interest for what we think our consumers want, and that is: a functional drink that is not going to add a ton of sugar and calories to your natural diet. So we kept it calorie-free and sugar-free. And we used Stevia as the sweetener – which has really come a long way. I think as far as Stevia drinks go, this is one of the easiest drinks that I have had.

I am pretty excited about it! We have a lemonade flavor, a fruit punch flavor, a blueberry acai, and a mango. They’ll be launching next month. And I’m pretty excited.

Does Blk. have much competition in the market?

The bottom line is, if you’re going to choose to drink something, you can drink anything from a cup of coffee to Coca-Cola to us! But, when health conscious people that are out in the stores that we are in, I point to other drink like Aquahydrate, for example, they are one of the only other beverages that are using trace minerals as well. High pH alkaline waters, those are quite popular now. We like to say that we have a really great intersection of trends with this drink. What I mean by that is, if you look at all of the major trends in the beverage industry, you’ve got hydration full electrolytes being pretty prevalent in the market. You’ve got the alkaline water – we definitely compete in that market with our natural high pH. You’ve got trace mineral waters with carbohydrates that really celebrate trace minerals and how readily absorbed they are by your body.

And I also like to talk about what’s not in the water: they don’t have calories, they don’t have sugar, which is really unique. When you put all of these things together and put in it in one pile, we are really one of the only beverages that can say that. It is definitely something that we celebrate and are really proud of. It definitely puts us in a great position to compete. But at the same time, it’s very unique to itself. There is no direct competitor to it. People have tried, but it’s just not that easy to do. This is a drink that took a solid 5 years to bring to market in the first place, and there’s a reason for that.

Is Blk. involved in any philanthropic endeavors?

We have a major affiliation right now. My uncle, our CEO, currently his son was diagnosed with Autism about two years ago. And that is just one of the most overwhelmingly, I would say, underrepresented causes in the United States in my opinion. Autism is so prevalent. I think the last stats I read was that 1 in 25 households are affected by autism in one way or another, whether it’s directly or an extended family member. And that’s pretty astonishing. When you have a disease that is so rampant out there, and there’s really not a lot of resources for the common family to look towards because the spectrum is so wide. From what I see my uncle and my aunt go through, it’s such a frustrating thing to have to deal with because there really isn’t a clear answer. There’s no black and white textbook remedy.

So we actually associated ourselves this year with Generation Rescue, which is an autism charity that is actually founded by Jenny McCarthy. They have been a huge resource to my uncle and my aunt, and they want to give back to the community and raise awareness. We actually donate a portion of every bottle sold to Generation Rescue to further autism research.

This story was originally published in the Best of Fall 2013 issue of DC Life Magazine.