Exactly one year ago I was informed by senior leaders of Coca-Cola that Honest Tea would be discontinued. Despite the brand’s success in the natural channel, supply chain disruptions during the pandemic helped make it a victim of Coke’s “Fewer, Bigger Bets” strategy.
I shared the news on LinkedIn and the response was powerful. My team at Eat the Change, most of whom were Honest alums, decided the brand’s organic and Fair Trade values were too important -- to our farmers (most of whom found out about HT’s termination from my post) and our customers -- to abandon.
We couldn’t buy back the Honest name because Coke was still building Honest Kids. So my HT-co-founder Barry Nalebuff and I brainstormed; we came up with Just Ice Tea. My ETC co-founder Chef Spike Mendelsohn started brewing recipes that made HTea’s greatest hits even better.
By September 6, we had sold our first bottle at a PLNT Burger in NYC. Today Just Ice Tea is the top-selling bottle tea brand in the natural channel (as tracked by SPINS). And we haven’t even started selling into national foodservice, drug, mass and convenience chains.
The whole experience confirms for me that Karma is real – Positive intentions and actions count. Because we tried to do the right things at HT, every part of the supply chain was eager to work with us again -- farmers, retailers, distributors, suppliers and co-packers, not to mention investors and consumers.
At the core of our success has been an amazing team with four key mindsets:
- Everyone is a Changemaker – We all work best when we understand how our work connects to the change we are trying to make, and are empowered to act. That’s one reason Spike and I traveled to Mozambique within weeks of our launch.
- Challenger Mindset – Whether we have been working in this industry for decades or weeks, we insist on acting with an urgency and ambition that recognizes we are not entitled to anything.
- Over-Communicate Everything – No one gets offended by being CC:ed on an email, but failure to include all relevant stakeholders on decisions creates silos and impairs coordination.
- Assume the Best Intentions – When we move this fast, things will inevitably go off course, but always assume people are doing their best, and do what you can to support them.
I never would have wished for Honest Tea to be discontinued, but one consolation is that Coca-Cola terminated the brand with its integrity intact.
Honest Tea’s termination created a big hole in the marketplace and we have been fortunate to be able to fill a lot of it. What felt like a huge setback turned out to be a gift. Now it’s up to us to see if we can take Just Ice Tea beyond where Honest went and realize the full promise of the brand and the values it represents.