Neither Rumor nor Hint: Finally, Here Comes Hint Fizz

While rumors of a HINT carbonated beverage have circulated for years, HINT founders Kara and Theo Goldin didn’t unveil HINT Fizz until the 2011 Fancy Food Show. They finally officially launched the product in July, although the brand is on a six-month exclusive deal with The Fresh Market.

As many wondered why it took so long for HINT to introduce a carbonated version of their popular flavored water line, Theo Goldin, the chief operating officer of HINT, said that while HINT essence water has resonated well among health conscious consumers, the company was not entirely certain about the market for a new line of carbonated waters.

“We’ve had to evolve our thinking a bit and, at this point, it’s clear that the world is divided into two groups,” Goldin said, flat water consumers and carbonation fans. “We want to be able to serve both, and we’re hoping this new line will allow us gain a larger share of household consumption.”

Over the last few years, Goldin said, he and Kara Goldin have experimented with various iterations of a carbonated beverage in their home kitchen. Goldin came up with a final mock-up of the product within the past year and introduced HINT Fizz a short time thereafter.

The lightly carbonated  water is flavored and unsweetened with a taste profile that some consumers have referred to as less like a traditional sparkling water and more like an unsweetened soda. At its suggested retail price of $1.49-1.69, HINT Fizz is line-priced with HINT essence water and comes in four flavors – blackberry, watermelon, strawberry-kiwi and peach.

HINT Fizz is packaged in a 12 oz. glass bottle, a container that Goldin said was used partly based on his feeling that carbonated beverages taste more refreshing out of a glass bottle. More importantly, however, is the brand’s positioning, which will put HINT Fizz up as an alternative to premium sodas.

To launch HINT Fizz, the company turned to The Fresh Market – a regional natural and gourmet chain with over 100 stores in 21 states throughout the Midwest and East Coast. The chain is a key regional account for the company and one where HINT essence water has a strong consumer following.

“Since launching in 2005, HINT has become one of the leading beverages at The Fresh Market stores,” said Marc Jones, senior vice president of marketing and merchandising. “When we first tried Hint FIZZ, we felt that the light carbonation added just what the soda drinker needed to make the move to unsweetened Hint products. We’re proud to offer it on an exclusive basis in our markets.”

That exclusive arrangement will also include a uniformed positioning as part of Fresh Market’s chain-wide planogram, Goldin said, adding that the ability to have HINT Fizz placed and positioned in the same way at each location will give HINT a simple way to test how the product will perform regardless of region.

Goldin also noted that the limited launch would give HINT the opportunity to make minor adjustments  to product’s formula and packaging without the major costs it would take had the company opted for a full rollout. HINT will also be able to examine how, if at all, the new product would affect sales of its core unsweetened water.

“We weren’t sure what was going to happen with the launch, but at the very least we’d get good data about what consumers thought of the product,” Goldin said.

While Goldin said he initially expected sales of HINT Fizz to be about one-third those of HINT, he stated that new line has “vastly exceeded our expectations,” though he declined to give exact figures. He also said that sales of HINT essence water The Fresh Market are up 18 percent since the launch of HINT Fizz.

“If we had done a full roll-out, we didn’t want our salespeople fighting for space for an unproven product,” Goldin said. “Now we have data showing that the product moves and is worth putting on the shelf.”

Currently, HINT Fizz is only sold in single serving bottles with no warm shelf space, but beginning in the fall, HINT will introduce 4-packs of HINT Fizz as well as introduce new distribution to key retailers – including Whole Foods – in regional locations that do not conflict with those of The Fresh Market. Goldin said that a national roll-out and new co-packing operations on the West Coast will likely take place at some point next year.