Beverage tax will hurt iconic RI brands, small businesses, consumers

Beverage tax will hurt iconic RI brands, small businesses, consumers

Eli Berkowitz is the owner of Little Rhody Foods.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating economic impact on working families and small businesses across Rhode Island. This includes Little Rhody Foods. Just as we are beginning to recover, the General Assembly is proposing a beverage tax that will make it harder for us to stock local products and keep our prices low. Ultimately, it could even mean closing our doors for good and residents not having access to the everyday groceries and iconic Rhode Island beverage products we distribute.

Little Rhody Foods is a family-owned business started in the 1950s by immigrants seeking the American Dream. Today, we distribute many of Rhode Island’s favorite local products like Del’s Lemonade, Autocrat Coffee Syrup, Twin Oaks pasta sauces, Wright’s Farm salad dressings, and Granny Squibb’s iced tea, among many other grocery items.

But if Rhode Island’s legislators implement this proposed beverage tax, it will threaten the production of many of the locally produced beverages and other products we sell. However, we are most concerned about our employees, who are like family to us, and could once again face unpredictable job security after having just gone through an incredibly difficult year.

Supporters of the beverage tax sell this policy idea as a way to punish “big soda.” What they don’t realize is that the damage they are doing is actually to us and local Rhode Island businesses.

2020 posed incredible challenges for Rhode Island’s business community, with employee hours cut, widespread layoffs, and beloved small businesses closing their doors for good. These businesses need support as they navigate the recovery. This tax adds to our angst because it will impact prices, sales, ability to retain workers, ability to sell products customers love, and it will affect our bottom line.

The legislation would place a 1.5-cent tax on many beverages that Rhode Islanders enjoy. This price increase adds up fast, amounting to significant increases on affected products like sodas, juice drinks, flavored waters, lemonade, sports drinks, coffee milk syrup and more. Businesses like ours already operate on thin margins and adding yet another cost will slow the effort to get our feet on the ground just as the summer season approaches. But more than that, it will affect hard-working employees, as we’ve seen it cost jobs in other places like Philadelphia.

We care about the health of our community, and it is imperative that we address the critical issue of food insecurity. Yet, we are certain there are more effective ways to improve public health than implementing a beverage tax that will devastate many of Rhode Island’s local businesses and inflict financial insecurity on working families if prices go up.

For years, local businesses like ours have been dedicated to serving Rhode Islanders. At Little Rhody Foods we’re proud to regularly contribute to a foundation to help cancer patients and their families with nonmedical expenses. We know small businesses are so much more to a community than just the products they sell. This is what makes local businesses so special. 

We want to continue to use our voice to advocate for our local community, which is why we are standing up in opposition to this harmful beverage tax. We ask you to do the same in telling the Rhode Island General Assembly to vote no on House Bill H-5715.

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