When Honest Tea announced last February that it was selling 40 percent of
the company to Coca-Cola, many in the organic community were shocked.
Headlines asked “Did Seth Cross Over To The Dark Side,” and some worried
about Honest Tea being turned into “Dis-Honest Tea” under the influence of
their new partner. But, despite the worries from some, Goldman assures all
t“hose concerned that good that can be achieved through this partnership in
“Last year we bought 2. 5 million
pounds of organic ingredients and
within the next three years we expect
to buy over 25 million pounds a year.” ways that he never could have done on his own. And,”for many, we will welcome
an organic option on the shelves and cross our fingers that through Honest Tea
forging the way, more consumers will be exposed to the message of organic.
Goldman took a few minutes to talk to Organic Processing Magazine about his
new partnership with Coke and how he plans to turn Honest Tea into a billion
dollar beverage company with heart, soul and widescale distribution.
OP: In the time since you’ve announced your partnership with Coke what has
been the response from most customers?
Goldman: Most consumers have been excited that it’s going to be easier to find
our product; that’s really been the primary response. But, I think with any announcement like this there are going to be questions. There’s some who have
worried about Coke trying to strip costs out of the system. I think our latest release is proof that this is not the case—we are announcing two new fair trade
certified teas at the same time that we are announcing an expanded distribution with Coke on the West Coast. Overall, a consumer should be less worried
about what we say than what we actually are out there doing.
want to be our suppliers will have to
meet fair trade certification standards
in order for us to even look at them.
We’ve already seen it with organics. We
have many gardens sending us samples, but we have a policy: if it’s not organic, don’t send it to us because
there’s just no way we can consider it.
Now, for some of our teas, if it’s not organic and fair trade, don’t send it.
That starts to change behavior in these
gardens for both those who operate
them and those who work there too.
So far, with our fair trade funding
we have helped these communities develop a computer learning center as
well as purchase bio-gas units so they
can convert manure generated by the
cows in the garden into methane they
can use for fuel. We’ve also supported
micro-enterprise. One of the gardens
has a place where tourists can stay.
That’s a great way for them to create
additional source of income in the
community, plus we get to educate visitors about organic tea cultivation,
which is good for everyone.
OP: The Fast Company article also said
that this merger could be the best
thing for your company or “a slow controlled brand implosion,” how do you
think you can prevent that?
OP: Speaking of which, in an article from Fast Company, you said that you want
to see Honest Tea be an agent of change not just through the example it sets,
but through actions as well. How do you see this partnership with Coke helping
you become more of an agent of change?
Goldman: Well, with this partnership we can start to reach the scale where we
have an impact, not just on what people think but on what people do. Last year
we bought 2. 5 million pounds of organic ingredients and within the next three
years we expect to buy over 25 million pounds a year. That’s more than just setting a nice example—this will make an impact on what happens in agriculture,
certainly around tea, and what happens in the sugar industry as well. When the
demand grows, the supply inevitably follows.
Fair trade is a good example. In the past few years, we’ve directed thousands
of dollars to help the farmers and communities that we work with, and that’s a
positive thing. But now we’re talking about directing tens of thousands, probably hundreds of thousands over the next few years, and all the gardens that
Goldman: Just keep doing what we’re
doing. As soon as we start ignoring
what we built the company on or how
we got here, that’s when something
like that happens. When Quaker took
over Snapple, for example, they ignored the fundamental components
of the brand. It was a brand that had
been built through distributors who
felt real loyalty to the brand. It was
known for quirky marketing like the
old Snapple Lady and finding ways to
get it into the hands of influencers like
Howard Stern and Rush Limbaugh.
Then Quaker fired the Snapple Lady,
pulled the product out of independent distributors, put it through a ware-