Published March 17, 2009
Volume 17, Number 3

OOBA’s Hibiscus Beverage Packs Plenty of Flower Power
After Exclusive Distribution Deal with Whole Foods, Drink's Distribution to be Expanded to Other Chains

With the introduction of three new flavors this month, OOBA now comes in six varieties.

By Nicole Zaro Stahl

“Something special is happening here,” remarks Janet Di Giovanna, Chief Marketing Officer at HiBix Corp., which moved into new headquarters at 5860 W. Las Positas Blvd. in early January.  Di Giovanna is referring to the track record of the less-than-a-year-old company whose product has been singled out as “one of the top 10 trends to watch in 2009” by Datamonitor, an international market research firm.

HiBix is the maker of OOBA, the first-ever line of sparkling beverages based on hibiscus extract. The first two OOBA products, Hibiscus & Lime and Hibiscus & Orange, debuted in 16-ounce bottles in the grab-and-go coolers at Whole Foods markets this past fall.

Formula creator and company founder John-David Enright has a great story to tell about how that transpired. Familiar with the healthful attributes of hibiscus from his years in the pharmaceutical industry, Enright set about developing a new kind of “good-for-you” beverage from scratch in rented lab space in Hayward. He also established some important business contacts. Then, last July, he walked into a meeting with Whole Foods corporate buyers in Austin carrying a refilled soda bottle with a lab label on it that read, “Hibiscus with Attitude.” After a taste test, the buyers liked the “gently carbonated, lightly sweetened” beverage so much they decided on the spot to do an exclusive national roll-out.

As Enright suspected, the all-natural OOBA drinks proved to be an ideal fit for the label- and ingredient-conscious Whole Foods shoppers, a highly educated, discerning, and adventurous demographic that “understands ‘better-for-you’ products better than anyone in the United States,” he says. A 55-cents-off hang tag on the distinctive PET bottle (the shape of an inverted ice cream cone) invited consumers to try the next new thing.

“We shipped product to every Whole Foods store in the nation, almost 300 of them,” comments Di Giovanna.“We will have run close to 700,000 bottles of OOBA, which is pretty meaningful in the grand scheme of things, especially considering that, with the exception of a few food shows aimed at distributors and a small couponing effort, we have done no advertising or major promotions.” 

The next step is already underway, with HiBix expanding distribution to other major grocery chains. Enright may have labored by himself in the lab, but he assembled a seasoned sales and marketing team and contracted with “a very well-established organization in Los Angeles” to produce and bottle OOBA.

The almost-overnight success has not ruffled Enright’s aplomb. He finds tremendous gratification in sharing the healthful properties of the hibiscus at the heart of OOBA, an acronym for One of Botany’s Advantages.  “The science behind the efficacy of the hibiscus species is solid,” he states. “Hibiscus extract contains many of the same antioxidant compounds as red wine, including flavonoids, polyphenols, and anthocyanins, which have been demonstrated to prevent the oxidation of LDL or ‘bad’cholesterol, and positively affect hypertension (high blood pressure).”

So eat, drink, and be healthy! For more information, visit www.oobabeverage.com.


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