Seth Goldman, co-founder and “TeaEO” of Honest Tea, feels good that he’s leaving the organic, natural beverage company he co-founded in 1998 with his legacy intact. He explained at a recent Connectpreneur winter event at George Washington university how he ensured his brand would continue as envisioned:
“I stuck around,” he said.
After selling Honest Tea to Coca Cola as a wholly owned subsidiary in 2011, Seth continued to work with the company while also supporting a company called Beyond Meat in California, which was emerging in the plant-based meat category. He recognized the potential as a sustainable food resource, worked with the founder, invested and became Executive Chair of the Board.
Greater Scale, Greater Impact
It made sense to sell to Coca-Cola in 2011 for greater distribution, scale and purchasing power. The Honest brand is selling billions of servings through McDonald’s, Subway, Chick Fil-A, and Wendy’s while supporting communities through fair trade and a healthful alternative. He says that his work with McDonald’s alone has removed 1 billion calories from the American diet.
Seth said his company has been connected to Coca Cola for longer than it was an independent company: “The brand has its own life, its own momentum. The teams in Atlanta and Europe we’ve seen they’re doing the right thing with the brand. They are innovating the right way and it’s large enough that I can’t see anyone saying ‘Let’s make it sweeter or discontinue certifying it as organic or Fair Trade.’ I’m not putting a toddler out into the world. This is a 22 year old entity with its own personality and it’s strong enough to survive on its own.”
Seth remains Executive Chair of the Board of Beyond Meat and says he will continue to support the alternative protein brand as it pursues its mission to transform the supermarket’s meat case into the protein case.
He summarized Beyond Meat’s approach: “Rather than define meat by its origin, which says meat always comes from animals, we’re going to define it by its composition. So when you look at it that way, meat is just an assembly of amino acids, which form the proteins; lipids that form the fats, 70% water and some trace minerals and carbohydrates.”
Although some are concerned that products such as Beyond Meat are “processed,” Seth says it is produced with the same equipment used to extrude pasta. And, the sustainability benefits are well worth pursuing.
“It will take 2 1/2 worlds to feed the growing population the same kind of protein diet we have in the United States, but we have only one,” Seth observes. The brand counts the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation among its early socially responsible investors out to feed the world responsibly.
Seth also remembers fondly another major “investor” without whom Honest Tea would not have been able to fill its first order for 15,000 bottles for Fresh Fields, which became Whole Foods. He’s referring to the bottle supplier in Pennsylvania who helped him respond to the cyclical nature of the beverage industry by agreeing to extend payment through each difficult winter. Seth is proud of bringing the payments each spring, well before the seasonal 90 day payment terms were up. The weekend before his fireside chat at GW, Seth learned the bottle supplier who had believed in him since the beginning had passed away.
“I would not have been able to succeed without him,” he says.
Read more about Seth Goldman’s detailed account of his co-founding Honest Tea here.
S. Tien Wong