Today, Pekarovic is a Hint investor and sits on the company board. He sums up the appeal of a product that has grown into a $90 million beverage sensation: "It's water, it's healthy, and I think it can be the Coca-Cola of our generation," he says.
Coke had played an unwitting role in inspiring the brand. In 2004 in San Francisco, Kara Goldin was a "new media" executive with three kids and another on the way when she vowed to kick her Diet Coke habit. Eager to lose weight and plagued by acne, Goldin started drinking water that she flavored with berries and slices of fruit. She lost 45 pounds in three months and saw her skin clear up. When she tried to find a similar water product in stores, it didn't exist, so she decided to make a prototype. The day Goldin gave birth to her fourth child, in 2015, the first Hint bottles appeared on shelves at a San Francisco Whole Foods.
"I never intended to be a beverage executive," says Goldin. "But I thought, if I wasn't going to come in and change things, no one else was. I'd been buying the lie that drinking diet soda is somehow healthier, but in fact, soda companies just want us addicted to sweeteners."
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Goldin was six months into her business when she got another inadvertent boost — from Coke. Through a friend, she contacted a Coke executive she thought might help her scale Hint and expand beyond the San Francisco Bay Area. Goldin was midway through her spiel when the man interrupted and said, "Sweetie, Americans love sweet." That was exactly the nudge Goldin needed to build a brand that is now on shelves across the country in Whole Foods, Target, Wal-Mart and elsewhere.
"Hint arrived at a time when consumers were looking for more purity in foods and beverages and starting to notice what happens to a product before it hits your shelf," says Darren Seifer, a food-and-beverage industry analyst at NPD Group, a market research advisory. "The big watch-out is getting people to notice the brand in a very, very crowded field that's controlled by behemoths."
Ali Dibadj, a water industry analyst for Bernstein, says, "Hint has done very well along the health-and-wellness trajectory, but the difficulty in my mind is that it's a relatively replicable idea. Adding not much to water is easy to do, and the proof will be in whether Hint can buck that when others start to encroach."