Philly food and drink scene

Arctic Splash will reportedly no longer come in cartons, disrupting a Fishtown tradition

Interstate Drafthouse

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An iconic symbol of Fishtown will soon disappear, and you probably can’t blame gentrification for this one: Arctic Splash will no longer come in cartons.

Dean Foods Co., the Dallas-based manufacturer behind the product, will still produce the iced tea-flavored drink that has long been ubiquitous in the River Wards — but the packaging is changing.

“Item is being discontinued,” a Dean Foods sales rep wrote this week in a text to Bob Ritchie, co-owner of neighborhood tavern Interstate Drafthouse, who was looking to order more cartons for his bar. “Only available in gallon or [half-gallon].”

Arctic Splash is a key food group to many longtime Fishtowners and other Philadelphians. Some consider it an essential part of their daily soft pretzel breakfast, and when the recipe was changed in 2016 to make it less sweet, people had a small freakout.

The school milk-style cartons play a big role in the drink’s popularity, and their design — with frosted blue bubble letters over an ocean of brown surrounding a tea glass — has been co-opted by various other brands trying to express Fishtown-ness. (Pizza Boy Brewing’s “Arctic Trash” beer label, for example.)

That’s one potential upside: the pint-sized cartons make up a decent part of the litter found all over Fishtown. There’s even an Instagram account (@arctic_trash) dedicated to recording stray containers on the ground.

Fans have been devastated to hear about its pending disappearance, according to comments on Interstate Drafthouse’s post breaking the news.

“This is like that movie ‘Moon Fall’ where the moon fell, but more Fishtown-centric and with more dire consequences,” wrote user @leolashlandis.

“Why would they stop!? This news saddens me!” said user @patrice776.

“Please pray for me during this troubling time,” said @dhm, in a post spreading the word to the Twitterverse.

The news is bittersweet for the Interstate Drafthouse team, who use the cartons as the base for the bar’s famous Fishtown Iced Tea. As it happens, they recently licensed the concept to a new partner company that will produce the powerful cocktail in cans.

Because of this, said Interstate co-owner Michael McCloskey, there’s the potential to have that liquid delivered in kegs — which could then be poured directly into custom milk cartons to serve.

The keg-to-carton idea has so far been the most popular of the options presented to bar customers, per McCloskey, who noted it would be a lot easier on staff, too.

“The way it works now is actually very labor intensive,” McCloskey said. “We have to unload all the [Arctic Splash] cartons, take them downstairs to store them, bring them up as needed, then mix each drink to order.”

Dean Foods’ reasons for the change aren’t entirely clear. Representatives didn’t immediately return Billy Penn’s requests for comment. Two years ago, when the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, they were adamant about continuing production.

“Arctic Splash is an iconic brand in Philly and as long as our customers and their thirsty consumers keep demanding it, we will absolutely keep making it,” Anne Divjak, Dean Foods VP of government and communications, said at the time.

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