It’s been a big couple of years for husband-and-wife team Theo and Kara Goldin. Their company, Hint, which produces unsweetened essence waters, has doubled year-over-year sales, is nationwide in Starbucks, and has a product that’s well positioned at a time when more and more consumers are seeking natural, low-sugar beverage options.
But that wasn’t always the case for Hint. When the brand started almost six years ago, the industry and the marketplace were very different. Vitaminwater was one of the hottest brands around and, thanks to their 2006 investment from Tata Group, had a valuation of $2.2 billion dollars. So, the gold rush was on to get a piece of the action, with most brands coming up with products that included vitamins, sugar, and water.
The Goldins, however, saw that this was a shortsighted approach.
“You get people who want to do a tweak… that’s never how great brands are built,” Theo Goldin said. “There are very few examples of followers turning into successful brands. We’re doing something different and that’s why we’re here today and all of those copycats are gone.”
Still, as the vitaminwater gold rush was ending, the recession hit, which brought steeply discounted pricing from many of the brands in the space. “The brand lost shelf space while other brands – mostly Vitaminwater style products – went on deep discount during the recession,” stated Theo Goldin. This led to some retrenching for the brand, with a renewed focus on key metro markets and their six core flavors (which were the only flavors even offered to new retailers and distributors). Kara Goldin added “Hint probably had less shelf space in 2009 than the years before. In 2008 and 2009 the category was down, but Hint was up but with less shelf space. Retailers diversified with brands that weren’t selling as well.”
In 2010, Hint recaptured shelf space and also gained additional space as retailers cleared out underperforming products. It’s no surprise that the added availability has, according to the Goldins, had a positive impact on Hint’s sales.
Also in 2010, Hint went nationwide with Starbucks, putting (I think it’s just the blackberry) its blackberry flavor in the open coolers that are found at the register. Despite initial fears by Starbucks that the product would cannibalize the company’s own bottled water brand, Ethos, Hint has, according to the Goldins, proven to be an incremental sale – and being within reach of most of the population via the Starbucks channel is a nice branding benefit, as well.
For 2011, Hint is focused on continuing their “core flavor” approach, nurturing their relationship with Starbucks, and launching a new carbonated line that was announced at the Winter Fancy Foods Show .
In this video, filmed at Hint’s headquarters in San Francisco, you’ll have the chance to see and hear Theo and Kara Goldin give their perspective on surviving the vitaminwater era, share Hint’s strategy, and talk about what lies ahead for Hint.