Jody Levy is the co-founder and creative director of WTRMLN WTR, a company created to find a solution for the hundreds of millions of pounds of unused watermelons in the United States. The waste melons are either ugly, misshapen or sunburned but otherwise perfect for nutrient-dense, hydrating WTRMLN WTR.
As told to Stephanie Steinberg
I have a passion for creating brands and launching products that are meaningful to people, that educate people about complex science, that advance our society in positive and inspiring ways. Before developing my own brands and products I worked with global companies, including Chrysler, Ford, Toyota and other multinational brands with the philosophy of telling stories in ways that appeal to invoke memory.
Levy had spent 18 years bridging the world of fine art and immersive storytelling. And now, she wanted to build a brand with “a bigger purpose.”
When I met my co-founder of WTRMLN WTR, Harlan Berger, on a rooftop at a party, he shared an astonishing fact with me that opened my eyes to the immense societal issue of food waste in our country. He told me that there are over 800 million pounds (at that time) of unused watermelons in America every year. After trying and failing to make ethanol with this waste watermelons, I dove in to develop the category, brand and the world’s first Watermelon Water — WTRMLN WTR.
At first, the beverage industry was skeptical.
I am known as the girl who showed up in the beverage world and told people, “Oh, I have an idea that I am going to bring to the world” and nothing more! It was way too easy for the big guys to copy us. Once we launched and were up and running in the world, people celebrated what we were doing. People got excited about having a hydration product that tastes good and really got excited about the fun and sassy vibe of our brand itself.
Levy launched WTRMLN WTR on Dec. 17, 2013, on the shelves at Whole Foods Market in New York City.
A few hours later Beyoncé released her track “Drunk in Love” that ends with the lyrics “I’ve been drinking watermelon.” It was wild synchronicity considering the concept of drinking watermelon had never really existed before that morning.
I made a phone call to a friend who I know from my time in the hip-hop music industry, and she immediately connected me with Beyoncé’s producer. We had product to her an hour later. We kept her office stocked for months, and her team reached out about a year later saying they wanted to be part of our company and help amplify our mission and message. In spring of 2015 we announced her partnership.
Like many startups, Levy has ridden the entrepreneurial roller coaster.
As an entrepreneur with a startup beverage company that has created a new category in the market, the list of highlights and tribulations are lengthy. While we were creating WTRMLN WTR, each and every success was a celebration, and with it, a vivid and often humor-filled story. There is glory in so many of the details: from convincing a university professor in Canada who was doing an experiment on wheat grass to sell us our first juice press, seeing our first few bottles on the shelves at our first retailer Whole Foods Market, celebrating the opening of our small but mighty retail store on Spring Street in the heart of New York City’s SoHo neighborhood.
The challenges are equally appreciated. Every step of the way was a roadblock where we had to explore all possible angles and choose the best path forward. But every challenge, without exception, has, and I have no doubt will always lead to knowledge and growth and continue to define this great adventure.