Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the past couple of years, it’s hard to miss the incredible proliferation of flavored water, both sparkling and still, bottled and canned, that lines the shelves of grocery stores from Trader Joe’s to Safeway and Whole Foods, not to mention Costco and Target. Even on a recent run into Walgreens, I was stunned by a truly mind-boggling choice of refrigerated waters in search of a simple bottle of plain spring water because I forgot my own bottle.
According to data from the Beverage Marketing Corporation, which tracks beverage sales, in 2017 health and wellness drinks made up about 41 percent of the total beverage market in the United States. And the same organization reported in the Wall Street Journal in 2018 that sales of nonalcoholic sparking beverages totaled $2.7 billion in the U.S. last year, outpacing fruit juice sales.
But while most people buy their flavored water online or from grocery or big box stores, in San Francisco fruity water fans can literally attend specialty water tastings as well as purchase their favorite varieties at one of the country’s first brick-and-mortar water bar and store at Hint on Union Street, a woman-run, San Francisco-based maker of unsweetened water products flavored by fruit essences.
TASTIER THAN TAP
San Francisco native and Hint CEO Kara Goldin founded Hint in 2005 after coming to grips with an addiction to diet soda — she was downing eight-to-10 cans a day — but not enjoying the blandness of the plain water that she knew she should be drinking. So she started cutting up fresh fruit and putting it in pitchers of water. Not only did Goldin enjoy the fruity water, but so did her family. Thus, a company was born from her sugar-free, additive-free solution to getting hydrated. Says Goldin, “The more I learned about how important what we put into our bodies is, the more I realized that most people don’t even know what’s in their drinks or where it came from! And the better I felt once I quit drinking diet soda.”
All unsweetened Hint water products are made with fruit infusions and without sugar, artificial sweeteners, or preservatives. They are vegan, gluten-and-calorie free and contain no other allergens such as nuts, and Hint bottles are BPA free. Hint offers 28 flavors including watermelon, blackberry, peach, orange, crisp apple, and lime, and intriguing combos like mango-grapefruit and strawberry-kiwi. And the company now offers Hint Fizz sparkling water, Hint Kids fruity water, and caffeinated Hint Kicks drinks.
After Hint established its corporate headquarters on Union Street, the company experienced fast-paced growth in stores and online, and in 2018 Goldin decided to open an actual Hint retail location just across the street from its offices. “It started as a tongue-in-cheek thing,” Goldin said in a phone interview with the beverage industry news source, BevNET. “And then we decided why not, why don’t we do this. You can come into the store and not only experience the Hint brand, but it’s also a very ‘Instagrammable’ place. We have a swing, phone chargers; you can come and hang out.” The store opened in July 2018 with an exclusive, invitation-only event.
Along with its growing assortment of flavored waters, the Union Street flagship store also offers Hint-branded sunscreen, lip balm, apparel, tote bags, phone chargers, Fitbit Flex fitness trackers, and Bluetooth speakers. Its 30 SPF sunscreen combines the company’s fruit essences with a paraben-and-oxybenzone-free sunscreen. But Goldin, who was previously a vice president in e-commerce and shopping at AOL and who was named one of Fast Company’s Most Creative people in Business and Forbes’s 40 Women to Watch over 40, says its number one best-selling core product is its still water.
HANGING AT HINT
While Hint slogan is “Drink water, not sugar,” the company is promoting lifestyle and the chance to have an “experience.” The retail store is set up as a boutique and water bar and basically a place for its customers to hang out, have fun, and relax. It offers up phone and computer charging stations and work spaces, and a photo booth with a big swing made for grown-ups. The 1,500-square-foot, light-filled space enlivened by vibrant colors has a playful feel. The company is spread out in four locations on Union Street, housing mostly offices, and a fifth location is set to open on Fillmore Street. Goldin says that while the newest location won’t have a water bar, customers will be able to buy the same Hint-branded merchandise now available at the flagship store. Hint is continuing to roll out new merchandise including a sunscreen stick that Goldin says she’s “really excited about.”
Hint also owns The Quench, an online media property with content in health-related topics that include wellness, lifestyle, beauty, pop culture, and parenting.
Whether you’re looking for a tastier way to drink more water or you’re simply curious about fruit-infused beverages, drop into Hint and find your favorite flavor.
Hint: 2124 Union Street, 866-895-4468, drinkhint.com