Honest Tea founder Seth Goldman says it was “such a bummer” to find out recently that the Coca-Cola Co. would be discontinuing the product he created more than two decades ago.
Coca-Cola announced Monday that it would discontinue carrying Honest Tea as of Dec. 31. In a statement to Bethesda Beat, the company said it is “challenging itself to think differently about how our brands help accelerate our business transformation, reflect consumer choice and grow as a company.”
Honest Tea, an organic tea company, was started in Bethesda by Goldman in 1998. Ten years later, Coca-Cola became an investor in Honest Tea and in 2011 the beverage giant bought the tea company.
In late 2019, Goldman announced he would be stepping away from Honest Tea and its offices would move from their downtown Bethesda location to Coca-Cola’s headquarters in Atlanta. Goldman has since started the company Eat the Change in Bethesda, which is the holding company of PLNT Burger – a fast-casual plant-based burger chain that has opened multiple locations in the Washington, D.C., area and others along the East Coast.
A hallmark of Honest Tea beverages is its use of fair-trade products grown overseas, including tea leaves and cane sugar.
Goldman said in an interview with Bethesda Beat on Wednesday that organic farmers around the world have been integral to building the Honest Tea brand. Over the years, Honest Tea spent millions of dollars purchasing fair-trade ingredients, he said.
“Now they’ve lost a material part of their business, and that can be a real challenge for them,” he said.
“It’s not that they’ll go out of business. What is challenging is that we worked with them to make sure the product could be organic. It’s an investment they make. And you don’t want to see them regret making that investment.”
Goldman also posted about the Honest Tea news on his LinkedIn profile, calling it a “gut punch.” He said in the last couple days, he’s gotten many supportive messages.
“I guess as disappointing as the news is, it’s been really reaffirming, because it really helps underscore that it was more than just a beverage brand. It was a team-approach to business that really resonated with people. So that was really positive,” he said.
Goldman said he’s pleased that Coca-Cola plans to keep its line of Honest Kids organic fruit juices. He said he doesn’t regret initially bringing Coca-Cola on as an investor because at the time it was the right thing to do businesswise.
“I don’t regret the decision, because that was our best chance to scale organics,” he said.
Goldman said that one of the latest efforts at Eat the Change has been the development of a “carrot chews” snack product – organic carrots sweetened with fruit juice – that’s designed to help people eat more vegetables. He said currently only 7% of children and 10% of adults in the United States eat their recommended daily intake of vegetables. The Centers for Disease Control has given similar figures.
“We have to find a way for people to get more vegetables on a regular basis,” he said.
Goldman added that PLNT Burger also plans to expand beyond its 11 existing locations, with a few planned to open soon in New York City.
Dan Schere can be reached at email@example.com