BETHESDA, MD. — Two weeks after the Coca-Cola Co. announced plans to cease production of Honest Tea, the brand’s original founders are plotting a return to the bottled tea business.
Seth Goldman and Barry Nalebuff founded the organic, fair trade, “just a tad sweet” beverage brand in 1998. Coca-Cola took a 40% investment stake in 2008 and fully acquired the business in 2011. Last year, Mr. Goldman debuted his newest venture, plant-based snack brand Eat the Change in partnership with celebrity chef Spike Mendelsohn. The first product launch was organic jerky made with bruised or irregular portobello and crimini mushrooms, marinated and smoked on hickory wood. Earlier this year marked the debut of a second offering, a children’s vegetable snack based on dehydrated carrots and fruit juice.
Then on May 23, Atlanta-based Coca-Cola said it is phasing out Honest Tea at the end of the year, though it will continue to produce and distribute the Honest Kids line of organic juice drinks. In a LinkedIn post on the same day, Mr. Goldman called the decision a “gut punch to all the sweat, tears and incredible passion that went into building our beloved brand.”
On June 6, Mr. Goldman posted an update, sharing that he, Mr. Nalebuff and Mr. Mendelsohn will add an organic tea line to the Eat the Change portfolio. He expressed concerns that Coca-Cola’s decision would be viewed as a loss of confidence in organic and fair trade agriculture that “could dampen the global desire to invest in these higher standards.” He also discussed the alignment of Honest values and Eat the Change’s mission to offer “chef-crafted, planet-friendly foods.”
“The overwhelming response on LinkedIn over the past two weeks have taught me several things,” Mr. Goldman said. “The first is a true commitment to the values underlying Honest Tea really counts — it makes a difference to our consumers, our suppliers, our employees and our partners in the natural foods world. The second learning is that the community of people who Honest Tea touched and inspired was even larger, and more passionate, than we hoped. Lastly, our organic and fair trade suppliers deserve to be treated better. So we are bringing back many of the same key team members that launched Honest Tea to introduce a line of organic and fair trade certified bottled tea from Eat the Change.”The products are expected to launch in late 2022.