Blog : Tea Company Offers an Honest Alternative

By Sarah Mahoney | Mar 2, 2015 | in

By Mark Quirk

BEDFORD – For Seth Goldman, saving the environment and helping Americans become healthier has been a lifelong mission.

Goldman grew up in Massachusetts across the street from Paul Sabin, a childhood friend who became one of the nation's most respected scholars of environmental history. While Sabin went into academia, Goldman pursued the entrepreneurial path when he launched a less sweet tasting alternative to the mass produced bottled beverages on the market.

That product is Honest® Tea, a hand-plucked organic and Fair Trade Certified bottled iced tea. Goldman made it part of his company's mission statement to seek to create organic beverages using honesty, integrity and sustainable practices to produce a product that doesn't sacrifice taste.

And it was that same mission Goldman put at the forefront when he decided to sell the company in 2011 just 13 years after its launch. He wanted to sell to a partner that could help further his mission of democratizing organics. After some research and many long conversations, Goldman decided The Coca-Cola Company, who has their own extensive company-wide sustainable initiatives, was the perfect partner.

“Our goal was never to only sell just a tad sweet drinks to healthy people. We always aspired to make our products available to people who might not normally seek out organic or less sweet tasting beverages.” Goldman said. “We knew that Coca-Cola could help us expand our reach and relevance.”

Coke bought a 40 percent share in the company in 2008 and purchased it outright in 2011. Today, Honest Tea is run as an independent business. Its list of beverages includes Honest Tea, Honest Kids, and Honest Fizz.

Goldman continues to run the business as the President and "TeaEO" from company headquarters in Bethesda, Md., with the same passion towards health, the environment and social responsibility he's maintained since the beginning.

Prior to the company's sale to Coke, Honest Tea’s distribution was relatively limited to farmer's markets and natural foods stores. Now it can be found in convenience and grocery stores like Market Basket, Hannaford and Cumberland Farms.

Since partnering with Coke, the amount of stores where Honest Tea is sold in has grown from roughly 15,000 to nearly 100,000 and the bulk of product they've produce has grown as well. Before the sale they purchased about 800,000 pounds of tea for their product, last year the company purchased 6.5 million pounds.

Honest Tea quickly became the popular, organic alternative on the shelves of supermarkets and corner stores. People who hadn't known of an organic alternative to other bottled iced teas now had a choice, and they were buying it.

Locally, and throughout the region, Honest Tea is distributed by Coca-Cola Bottling Company of Northern New England (CCNNE), which is based in Bedford, New Hampshire.

Just like it did for Honest Tea, this partnership opened new doors for CCNNE. According to Ray Dube, the sustainability manager for CCNNE, the company started to move further beyond bubbles with Vitamin Water. Then the addition of Honest Tea widened the scope of The Coca-Cola Company’s offerings even further.

“It was another step further out, which is a good thing,” Dube said. “It gives us a new client list.”

The sustainability initiatives and “green” practices of Honest Tea “fit perfectly” with Dube's vision and the efforts Coca-Cola makes to help the environment by offsetting its own carbon footprint.

Dube travels all over the Northeast teaching about CCNNE's sustainability initiatives and Honest Tea makes his job a little easier.

“We've always been on the front edge of sustainability,” Dube said.

CCNNE has reduced solid waste by 80 percent over the last six years that includes PET plastics, shrink wrap and aluminum. Those materials are then sold to companies including Foss Manufacturing and Polartec then resold to companies like The North Face and Patagonia to make their popular fleece jackets. Their Londonderry bottling facility receives 6,000 tractor-trailer loads of material each year and their solid waste dumpster only needs to be emptied nine times in a one year period

Amongst its own expansive sustainability initiatives, The Coca-Cola Bottling Company of Northern New England is also a corporate sponsor, and green-certified business with the Green Alliance, a union of local, green businesses and community members.
Honest Tea is particularly popular in places like college campuses and their surrounding communities. During a recent trip to Burlington, Vt., Goldman said he was pleased to see his product was “big” at the University of Vermont.
Honest Tea got its start in 1998 by Goldman and Barry Nalebuff, who was one of Goldman's professors at Yale School of Management. They were looking for a drink that could fill the void between all the sweet and watery products on the market at the time.

Nalebuff traveled to India for a study analyzing the tea industry and discovered some American companies were buying the dust and fannings left after whole tea leaves had been brewed, not whole tea leaves.

The two came up with a recipe for Honest Tea and within a couple of months had a deal in place with Fresh Fields, which later became Whole Foods Market. Seventeen years later the brand is stronger than ever.

Goldman still stays in touch with his old neighbor, Professor Sabin, who teaches environmental history at Yale and is the author of the book “The Bet: Paul Ehrlich, Julian Simon, and Our Gamble Over Earth's Future.”

Each of them had books published within the last two years, Sabin's “The Bet” and Goldman's NY Times Best-Seller “Mission in a Bottle,” the story of Honest Tea. Goldman said they did a joint book signing and Sabin helps with the big picture for his company but doesn't have a direct interest. That big picture includes green initiatives including the Great Recycle tour and other programs across the globe.

One of those initiatives included providing eye care screenings for about 6,000 people in northern India who otherwise wouldn't have access to such treatment. Honest Tea also supports and works with Trees for the Future, Food Corps and 1% for the Planet.

For more information about Honest Tea, visit www.honesttea.com.

For more information about Coca-Cola Bottling Company of Northern New England visit www.ccnne.com.

To learn more about the Green Alliance, visit www.greenalliance.biz