Honest Tea reached a milestone late last week. Parent company Coca Cola announced on June 17 that Honest Tea had sold its one billionth beverage!
This might seem like an unusual topic for a Meatless Monday post; Honest Tea is indeed meatless, but it is a beverage, not a food. But please bear with me as I spin the tale; it raises some interesting questions.
Honest Tea was conceived in New Haven, just a few blocks from where I live. In 1994, Barry Nalebuff, a professor at the Yale School of Management, and his student, Seth Goldman, discovered they shared the passion for the idea of a less sweet, but flavorful beverage. “We were thirsty,” they say. In 1997, the two reconnected. Seth, now graduated and working, had decided he would have to create a drink himself; Barry had just returned from India where he had been analyzing tea for a case study. Barry had even thought up a name for bottled tea made with real tea leaves — Honest Tea. Seth quit his job and started brewing tea in his kitchen. Just five weeks later, an interested buyer ordered 15,000 bottles!
Honest Tea was the first tea company to introduce a USDA-certified organic bottled tea, as well as the first to make a Fair Trade Certified bottled tea.
Coca-Cola invested in the company in 2008 and helped expand the distribution of Honest beverages. Coca-Cola purchased Honest Tea in March, 2011. Seth continues to run the company as President and “TeaEO.” Honest Tea is now sold in over 100,000 outlets.
Coca-Cola is a multi-national corporation, makes a major portion of its profits selling drinks made with high fructose corn syrup, and is one of the largest opponents of GMO labeling. Many question how Honest Tea could choose to align itself with such a company. Indeed, the Organic Consumers Association has called for a boycott of a number of well-known organic product lines owned by companies who oppose GMO labeling. One of those targeted is Honest Tea.
Many situations are not simply either black or white, however. In my mind, this is one of them. I do not know Seth, but I am acquainted with Barry. I asked him last summer, in the midst of the Organic Consumers Association boycott campaign, why Honest Tea had partnered up with Coke, and he suggested I read this piece Seth published in his blog last August — “All in the Family.” It came down to distribution. Honest Tea had a great product and mission, but it lacked a large distribution system. Coca-Cola could get their product out there.
Like the beloved liberal uncle at the conservative family’s holiday gathering, Honest Tea brings a different voice to the Coke family table. Seth wrote, “There are bound to be moments when our enterprise does not share all of the same ideas as our parent company. But there’s never been any pressure to compromise Honest Tea’s products, our ingredients, or our commitment to our mission…The company’s Honest Kids products do not contain any high fructose corn syrup. In fact, Honest Tea refused to yield to pressure from parent company Coca-Cola to remove the “no high fructose corn syrup!” language from the Honest Kids packaging.” Seth writes in his Letter from the Tea-Eo in Honest Tea’s 2013 Mission Report, “So we operate in that grey zone between what’s ideal and what’s possible and each decision brings trade offs.” [Sounds like my life..] You can read the full report here and make your own decision.
I have chosen to support Honest Tea—a great product—despite the parent company’s intense involvement to block required GMO labeling — for the same reasons I still buy Ben & Jerry's fro-yo even though it is owned by Unilever.
One billion bottles is a lot of tea. In honor of National Iced Tea Month (the month of June), Honest Tea enlisted the help of Sysomos, Inc. to look at every tweet about iced tea over the last year and to make some sense of the data. Based on the 117,441 tweets they gathered, they came up with an interesting infographic about who these tea drinkers are. I tweet so I know I’m in there somewhere.
Honest Tea is the drink I grab when I’m on the go — Mango Peach Açai in the glass bottle when I can find it. I wonder how many of those one billion beverage units were mine?
Happy Monday. Happy Summer. Stay hydrated. Have a great week!
On Mondays I often blog on food, food issues, or gardening in support of Meatless Monday, one of several programs developed in the Healthy Monday project, founded in 2003 in association with Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Communications. Meatless Monday’s goal is “to help reduce meat consumption 15% in order to improve personal health and the health of our planet.”