Eat the Change

The fourth variety of tea we are disclosing is a blend of black tea and lemonade (we will be withholding the name and label until our official launch).  This blend of flavors was Honest Tea’s second best-selling variety, so we are confident it will be warmly received. The tea leaves come from an organic, Fair Trade certified farm in Mozambique, run by a relatively new supplier who was able to revitalize dormant fields into a thriving organic tea garden.  

While we know taste is critical to the success of a variety, it’s the people selling the product that can have just as much of an impact.  One of the easiest ways for a packaged goods company to demonstrate appreciation for people is to choose the last 5 digits of the UPC code in their honor.  I chose the numbers for our tea and lemonade combo in honor of my friend and longtime Honest Tea and Beyond Meat colleague, Chuck Muth.  When Chuck was in charge of sales for Honest Tea, he campaigned for us to launch a tea and lemonade line, so we chose the final five UPC numbers in honor of Chuck’s birthday.  And since all Honest Tea varieties are being discontinued, I wanted Chuck’s legacy to continue.

But I didn’t choose to honor Chuck because he likes tea and lemonade.  I did it because Chuck is someone who embraces the Challenger Mindset – a way of thinking and acting that has to be at the heart of any disruptive brand. 

Among his most memorable rules:

Show me the math – no magic numbers.  Chuck never accepts a sales forecast unless he can see and challenge the assumptions and calculations behind it.

You can’t sell tea from behind a desk – get out in the trade.  Everyone needs to understand what’s going on at the store level – that’s how a true operator acts.  Chuck started his beverage career loading Coke trucks as a teenager in Paterson, NJ, and ever since I met Chuck, I make it a rule to never spend an entire day in the office, even if it’s just walking over to my local Giant supermarket at lunchtime.

But Chuck’s most important management strategy was to empower the team.  He set up a system where everyone had full transparency to see their business results, as well as the budget and decision rights to manage it.  Then he held everyone accountable – letting everyone benefit or suffer from the results.  Whether it was with Honest Tea or Beyond Meat, Chuck’s approach created a competitive, spirited culture with excellent results.

Another thing Chuck used to say all the time was “Everyone’s got a guy” – Chuck would say this whenever he was getting pitched by one of our salespeople to buy some sales-related items, like branded shirts.  What Chuck was really saying is - if we’re not strategic, we can make all kinds of little decisions that drain our resources. 

That also translates into being careful with how we spend money.  When we launched Honest Tea with Coca-Cola bottlers, we made it a policy that employees would split hotel rooms. It might not have been as comfortable, but it cut our hotel bills in half and helped us develop a close-knit team with plenty of  memorable stories.  Chuck and I split a room on more than one occasion. 

It’s easy for big companies to operate in the marketplace with a sense of entitlement – an arrogant belief that their scale and their wallets will guarantee success.  Even though Chuck worked with some of the world’s largest brands, he never lost the Challenger Mindset.

And so the week after we announced that Eat the Change had closed a major financing, (my ETC co-founder) Spike and I split a room (at the Hampton Inn) the night before our first production run.  You either have the Challenger Mindset or you don’t.  Just ask Chuck.

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