Save Mart has stopped selling the energy drink 51FIFTY, responding to a campaign by mental health advocates who say the name is offensive.
The Livingston-based energy drink company was created by a farmer and race car driver and has participated in the Fresno Food Expo. Its cans feature the slogan “Live the Madness.”
Police and first responders use the term 5150 in situations when a person “as a result of a mental health disorder is a danger to others, or to himself or herself or gravely disabled.”
Applying the term to an energy drink inspired pushback from a few people, including several members of the Fresno chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Members of the chapter met with the company CEO last summer to ask him to change the name. They also have 65 signatures on a Stop Promoting Mental Illness Stigma petition at Change.org.
Save Mart spokeswoman Nannette Miranda said the drink was popular with shoppers and that it’s important to the company to sell locally made products.
“However, our sale of the product was never intended to diminish the seriousness of mental illness. We have made the decision to discontinue this product in our stores,” she said Tuesday in an emailed statement.
51FIFTY remains for sale at many 7-Eleven and Fastrip stores, along with Nugget Markets, a Sacramento-area grocery chain.
It’s my goal to break the stigma.
Eve Hinson of Fresno
Eve Hinson of Fresno has asked 51FIFTY to change the name since last year. She has post-traumatic stress disorder and a functional neurological disorder.
“It’s making fun of a condition that’s an illness,” she said. “The stigma of mental illness is so integrated in our society people don’t realize they’re making fun of a crisis moment.”
But the creator of the drink sees it differently. CEO Carlos Vieira, who also works at his family business farming sweet potatoes, said the inspiration for the brand came when he decided to start racing cars at age 35.
It’s all about giving back and helping out.
Carlos Vieira, 51FIFTY CEO, about autism awareness
“My friends were telling me, you’re crazy for showing up at the racetrack. You have zero experience racing cars. I said, ‘No, guys, I’m going to do it. I want to create a logo to represent that.’ ”
That logo – 5150 – was painted on the hood of the car. The 51FIFTY website explains the name as representing “a person who never quits, meets all challenges head on, doesn’t feel fear, pushes the limit and is crazy enough to chase his or her dream.”
Vieira explains that before the energy drink was created, he started using the brand to raise money for a cause of his own – autism. The Carlos Vieira Foundation has raised more than $800,000 for autism over the years through various fundraising events, he said. It funds grant programs in 21 counties and boxing programs that keep kids off the street, he said.
The energy drink was created in 2011. The cans once featured the definition of 5150 on them, but Vieira decided to remove it a while ago.
Losing Save Mart as a customer won’t convince Vieira to change the name of the drink.
“Changing the name would totally go against what 51FIFTY means,” he said. “51FIFTY is about never giving up.”
Vieira’s lawyer sent Hinson a cease-and-desist letter dated Monday, March 21, accusing her of “cyber-defamation” by making statements to third parties that are “false and defamatory,” though it didn’t say which statements were false.
Vieira said Tuesday that the warning was about a letter Hinson sent to Save Mart, saying it contained inaccurate information about their fundraisers and finances.
But Hinson said the name reinforces the stigma surrounding mental health that often prevents people from seeking the help they need.
Hinson has been at the center of a 5150 call. Her PTSD stems from childhood sexual abuse, and she often shares her story publicly to educate people on the topic. When her PTSD was triggered, she had painful seizures, was unable to walk or talk and had amnesia. She lost a home, a job and a marriage because of it, she says. She still deals with sensory overload from sound and lights.
“I wake up and I live with this every day,” she said. “I’m standing up for everyone who can’t speak.”