Honest Tea‘s President and “TeaEO” Seth Goldman doesn’t think he’s sold out. During the closing keynote address at the 2009 Net Impact Conference today, Goldman explained his decision to allow Coca Cola to acquire 40% of Honest Tea by reassuring event goers that his commitment to producing a healthy, organic, less sweet drinks has not changed since the multinational became a majority player in his company. According to Goldman, the only thing that’s changed is that more people around the country have access to good iced tea.
When Goldman first started to make tea using thermal bottles and empty Snapple containers in 1998, he probably never thought that his home-grown business would be connected to Coca Cola, a producer of high fructose corn syrup drinks. From the beginning, Goldman wanted to produce a low-calorie, low-sugar, organic drink that was a healthy alternative to the high-sugar carbonated beverages already in the market.
In 2002, Honest Tea began to expand, at which point the calorie level was raised to 33 to please consumers, according to Goldman. Though the company was expanding, their product was still not available in many parts of the country.
During the keynote, (shared with business leaders from CSR Wire, Vermont Bread Company and Ben & Jerry’s,) Goldman shared a story about how during the 2008 election, people from Obama’s campaign called him to see where they could find some Honest Tea somewhere in the midwest. Goldman said that, unfortunately, he only had one store that carried his product in the region. Clearly, something needed to change.
Enter Coca Cola. Earlier last year, the multinational corporation acquired a large stake in Honest Tea’s company share. Many were put off by this partnership, including New York University, who had banned all Coca Cola-related drinks (including Honest Tea) to protest the company’s human rights record. Goldman lamented NYU’s decision because Honest Tea has a clean record.
With the Coca Cola partnership, Goldman had to eliminate his independent distributors in favor of Coke’s. He defended that decision on the grounds that now more people will have access to a healthy drink.
“We’re making a great product, but if people can’t get it, that’s a problem. Now with Coca Cola as our distributor, we’re making the product more available and we’re able to reach people that we’ve never been able to get before,” Goldman said.
Plus, Honest Tea can now teach Coca Cola a thing or two about sustainablity. For example, Honest Tea bottles now have 22% less plastic than before, and according to Goldman, Coca Cola now wants to learn more about making more light-weight bottles. So, can it be true that Coca Cola is now taking Honest Tea’s lead in reducing plastic content in its bottles? Perhaps this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship. One can hope.