On this date 25 years ago, I started Honest Tea...

Eat the Change

On this date 25 years ago, I started Honest Tea out of my home in Bethesda, Maryland.  With the support of my wife, Julie Farkas, and my HT co-founder, Barry Nalebuff, we aspired to create a national (even international) mission-driven brand to help move people toward healthier diets that are more planet-friendly and mindful about their sourcing practices. 

For a period of time, we accomplished that goal.  Retail sales of Honest branded drinks exceeded $400 million around 2017, and the products were carried in over 150,000 outlets.

It's an ironic moment to mark the occasion because today the last vestiges of Honest Tea are disappearing from the marketplace.  The Coca-Cola Company announced in May that the brand would be discontinued at the end of 2022.  Last month I spotted a few remaining bottles at an airport shop in San Francisco.

No matter how successful it might have been at one point, anyone who launches a brand hopes it will be around forever.  Seeing a brand you created disappear is painful.

Shakespeare wrote in All’s Well that Ends Well, “No legacy is so rich as honesty.”  So today, as Honest Tea fades from the marketplace, it feels appropriate to reflect on its legacy:

  • Honest Kids, our lower sugar organic juice drink, is still flourishing as the top-selling organic kids juice drink. It is distributed nationally in more than 100,000 outlets, including McDonalds, Wendys, Subway, Chik-Fil-A, Arby’s – none of which come to mind when you think organic drink.  So our aspiration to democratize organic foods is being realized.
  • Dozens of amazing entrepreneurs who got their start with Honest are now building the next wave of mission-driven brands. I was initially hoping to list them, but once I started, I realized it would it have taken up most of the blog post.  The branches of the Honest employee tree extend into many of today’s most cherished brands including Good Culture, Calicraft, Aldi, Super Coffee, Rishi, Roar, Timberland, Beyond Meat, Partake Foods and Meati.
  • Ripples in the mission-driven space continue. The success of Honest inspired thousands of entrepreneurs, investors and larger food companies to embrace the healthier, organic and Fair Trade approach to food.  Our book, Mission in a Bottle: The Honest Guide to Doing Business Differently, which was a New York Times bestseller, helped provide the playbook for tens of thousands of rising leaders.
  • And the journey continues with the launch of Just Ice Tea, which is in so many ways the reincarnation of Honest Tea. Created by most of the founding team of Honest and enhanced by some amazing additions, such as my Eat the Change co-founder, Chef Spike Mendelsohn, Just Ice Tea seeks to build on what we started at Honest Tea, but takes things up a few notches in terms of our sourcing partnerships.  Spike and I just returned from an awe-inspiring trip to the world’s largest and most remote organic tea garden, and we will be sharing more news about our impact partnership in the weeks to come.  We are more determined than ever to build on the foundation that Honest Tea started and drive lower calorie, organic and Fair Trade tea to new levels of growth and impact.

Building Honest Tea was both thrilling and terrifying.  In retrospect, I can appreciate how special and lucky we all were to have the opportunity to create a brand which was the full manifestation of our beliefs. 

Creating Eat the Change and Just Ice Tea feels less terrifying because this time around we know what we’re doing.  But the joy is still very much with us.  As we scale Just Ice Tea, I try not to let a week go by without letting my team know how much I love them – I’m not sure I ever used the ”L”  word during the Honest Tea days, but I these days I deploy it frequently.

We certainly hope that Eat the Change and its impact on our consumers, our supplier communities and our planet will last more than 25 years, but win or lose, we are making sure to enjoy the ride. 

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