Hiball, sobered up, will appear on Whole Food’s shelves nationwide

It may have started off as a cocktail mixer, but Hiball is sobering up and heading in a new direction. The fizzy, clear and sugar-free energy drink will be making a big mark on the beverage industry as it takes a prominent role in the Whole Foods energy drink case, according to owner Todd Berardi.

The product, a sugar-free, essence-sweetened energy drink packaged in a squat 10oz. bottle, spent its first couple of years on the market foundering as it sought shelf space. Competition from another brand and a lack of ability to move the energy needs of bargoers from Red Bull and vodkas left the product out in the cold.

Recently, Hiball has restaged, trying to recenter the brand as a sparkling energy seltzer. The glass bottle is still there, but so is an all-natural focus and a coveted spot in Whole Foods new designated array of energy drinks.

The company hopes a non-traditional appearance and zero-calorie, zero-sweetener approach will catch on with natural foods consumers, who have adapted slowly to the energy drink movement, at least partially because the products are similar in composition to many of the CSD’s that those consumers have abandoned.

Nevertheless, the product faces tough competition once again from the other products in the set — particularly the more established Steaz.

Still, there are some draws: a lack of artificial color, a recyclable glass bottle, and its staunch resistance to sweeteners of any kind may work in Hiball’s favor.

Berardi said his brand is also expanding in regional chains through UNFI and had a very successful experience at Expo West. He also plans to grow further in the near future, but couldn’t speak in specifics.

 “(We have) a lot of good things in the hopper here,” Berardi said.