Our TeaEO: Seth Goldman

Seth Goldman is President and TeaEO of Honest Tea, the company he founded in 1998 together with Professor Barry Nalebuff of the Yale School of Management. Honest Tea is the nation’s best-selling organic bottled tea company whose products are distributed through more than 10,000 outlets in every state, as well as overseas. In 2006, Honest Tea’s bottled teas received the top ranking by Consumer Reports. The company ranked in Inc. magazine’s annual list of the 500 Fastest Growing Companies in the United States in 2003 and 2004.

An entrepreneur at heart, Seth started with lemonade stands and newspaper routes, created a non-profit urban service corps, and almost pursued a prize-winning biotechnology idea before he started Honest Tea in his kitchen in 1998. Always thirsty and continually searching for the perfect drink—something natural, big on taste, low on sweetness—Seth found his niche in tea after realizing it was here where he could quench his thirst and pour his passions for social and environmental change into one bottle. Within a year of the creation of the brand, Honest Tea became the first company to market a fully organic bottled tea—today the entire product line is USDA certified organic. Honest Tea has initiated supplier partnerships with a Native American community and a South African community, and in 2003 Honest Tea introduced the first and only Fair Trade bottled tea. The company has also created marketing partnerships with City Year, Arbor Day Foundation, Pretty Shield Foundation, Timberland and Ford Escape Hybrid.

Before launching Honest Tea, Seth was Vice President of Calvert Social Investment Fund, managing the marketing and sales efforts for the nation’s largest family of socially responsible mutual funds. His previous work includes managing a corporate initiative to combat child labor for the Calvert Foundation, directing an AmeriCorps demonstration project in Baltimore and serving as Senator Lloyd Bentsen’s Deputy Press Secretary for two-and-a-half years. Before that, he worked for a year in China (1987-1988) and a year-and-a-half in the former Soviet Union (1989-1990). He is a graduate of Harvard College (1987) and the Yale School of Management (1995).

Seth serves on the boards of Pennsylvania Certified Organic, Environmental Leadership Program, Happy Baby, Net Impact (formerly Students for Responsible Business) and Bethesda Green, an initiative that will implement and showcase sustainable practices in Bethesda, MD. He is an advisory board member of First Peoples Worldwide, a non-profit that promotes the rights and interests of indigenous peoples. Seth’s wife, Julie Farkas, also works in the area of social justice.

Whether hot or cold, Seth finds plenty of ways to incorporate Honest Beverages into his day. Some favorites include an Honest Ade Orange Mango in the morning, a cold Community Green after playing basketball or running, and a hot First Nation Peppermint after dinner.

The History of Honest Tea

1998 -We launched Honest Tea in February of 1998. Our first bottles hit grocery store shelves in June of that year offering five varieties of freshly brewed and barely sweetened tea.
Our first account was Fresh Fields (Whole Foods), which Seth and Barry landed with the batches of tea made in Seth’s kitchen. Eventually, tea production was moved to Buffalo, N.Y. We finished our first year with sales of $250,000.

1999 – We added a few more varieties of our bottled tea in the second year and weathered our share of spoiled batches, learning as we went along. First Nation Peppermint, the world’s first organic bottled tea, was launched, and Decaf Ceylon joined our portfolio as a naturally decaffeinated black tea. By this time we were landing lots of new accounts including Whole Foods Markets, Wild Oats, Giant, Harris Teeter and Food Emporium. We ended our second year at $1.1 million in sales.

2000 -Year three put us into the tea bag business in addition to our bottled beverage business. We added another organic variety, Jakarta Ginger, in the summer months and launched eight varieties of tea bags (five organic). To our delight, we became the fastest-growing bottled tea brand in natural food stores (SPINS), and our sales hit $1.9 million.

2001 – In our fourth year, more than 50% of our offerings became organic. We introduced Community Green, an organic bottled tea created in partnership with City Year, a non-profit organization that brings together young people for a year of community service. Fourth year sales were $3.2 million.

2002 -We introduced Haarlem Honeybush an herbal tea produced in partnership with the farmers’ cooperative in Haarlem, South Africa. In this year we became the best-selling bottled tea brand in the natural foods industry, claiming seven of the top ten best-selling varieties (SPINS). Our sales topped $4.6 million.

2003 – We launched two new flavors, Peach Oo-la-long and Green Dragon Tea and reformulated Lori’s Lemon to create a new line of “a tad sweet” teas. Peach Oo-la-long, the first Fair Trade certified bottled tea and Green Dragon Tea were the two most successful new beverages launched in the natural foods industry in 2003.
Honest Tea ranked #117 on the Inc. 500 list of the fastest growing private companies; we were the highest ranked food and beverage company on the list. We were awarded the “Dream Big Award” sponsored by Inc. and Visa. Sales hit $5.5 million.

2004 -In January, we gained full USDA organic certification on all twelve of our bottled teas as well as all eight tea bags. With this certification, Honest Tea became the only tea company to offer an entire line of organic bottles and bags. We introduced a line of tea in PET-1 Bottles which received rave reviews and won several packaging awards. The tea bag line was re-designed with individually overwrapped bags in response to requests from foodservice accounts. The company was again listed on the Inc. 500 list of fastest growing private companies. Sales hit $5.9 million.

2005 – Honest Tea’s first white teas were introduced in both the glass and PET bottle lines. These included Mango White Tea, Pearfect White Tea, and Vanilla Mint White Tea. Heavenly Honey Green was also introduced. In May, the company made its first foray into a non-tea product with the introduction of Honest Ade Limeade and Cranberry Lemonade organic citrus quenchers. Sales hit $9.6 million.

2006 – The Honest Tea and Honest Ade lineups expanded even more with the addition of Pomegranate Blue (which became one of our top-selling varieties in a matter of months), Just Green Tea and Just Black Tea, two unsweetened fair trade teas. The “Just Teas” barely hit the shelves before being named a Clear Choice Award winner by the Glass Packaging Institute for excellence in packaging. The July issue of Consumer Reports runs a feature story on bottled teas and selects “An Honest Winner”, Lori’s Lemon gets the #1 ranking. Sales hit 13.5 million.

2007- We welcome new investors and board members with the launch of nine new products. New flavors that have already hit the shelves include Pomegranate White Tea with Açaí and the newest Honest Ade-Orange Mango with Mangosteen, both in plastic, along with Sublime Mate (Honest Tea’s first yerba mate drink) and Pomegranate Red Tea With Goji Berry in glass. Our Just Green and Just Black are the first of our teas available in 64-oz. bottles. This spring we will be launching our much-anticipated new line, Honest Kids, with three flavors of low-sugar organic thirst quenchers—Goodness Grapeness, Tropical Tango Punch, and Berry Berry Good Lemonade!