An Unquenchable Thirst

As the keynote speaker for WINDPOWER 2014, Honest Tea president and TeaEO Seth Goldman will share his experiences in carrying a niche brand from a start-up to a market leader through a commitment to integrity, honesty, and corporate social responsibility.


Thirst has always been a motivating factor for Honest Tea president and TeaEO Seth Goldman.

It was the thirst of sun-drenched golfers that led him to sell more than a few glasses of lemonade—and scavenged golf balls—at a local golf course at the age of six. It was there that his own thirst for entrepreneurship first took… well… course.

Years later as an adult, his own physical thirst and entrepreneurial thirst would combine with his emerging thirst for integrity, sustainability, and corporate social responsibility to define his career.

In 1997, Goldman and Barry Nalebuff, professor at the Yale School of Management, had a common problem. Both men had been unsuccessful in finding a product to satisfy their shared beverage preferences—flavorful, thirst-quenching, not overly sweet. Drawing on Goldman’s experiences in mixing his own beverages after running, as well as Nalebuff’s recent voyage overseas analyzing the Indian tea industry, the pair began brewing massive quantities of tea—batch after batch—in Goldman’s kitchen.  The end result was what would become Honest Tea’s first product—a high-quality tea that was as flavorful and refreshing as any other beverage currently on the market, without the overpowering sweetness and excess sugar.

“I launched Honest Tea out of my house 16 years ago for two reasons,” Goldman said. “One was because I was thirsty and there weren’t any drinks out there that were what I was looking for. The other element was, I felt like there was an opportunity to take a business and really drive change in the American diet, in the way agriculture works, and to help change the working conditions of people in the developing world.”
Seventeen years later, and far removed from those humble beginnings, Honest Tea has grown exponentially, and is now stocked in more than 100,000 stores coast-to-coast. In 2011, Honest Tea was purchased by, and remains an independent business unit of, The Coca-Cola Company—the world’s largest beverage company.

On Tuesday, May 7, at Mandalay Bay Convention Center in Las Vegas, Nevada, Goldman will share his experiences—the challenges, solutions, and responsibilities—that came from taking a business borne out of passion, practicality, and responsibility, from a start-up to a household name, as he presents the keynote address at the American Wind Energy Association’s WINDPOWER 2014 Conference & Exhibition.

Although the wind energy industry has been establishing itself as a viable part of the energy mix, there are still many parallels that can be drawn to a company like Honest Tea.

For starters, wind energy was developed with the purpose of reducing over-reliance on conventional energy generation methods that are increasingly overtaxing our supply of natural resources. The wind energy industry itself is committed to its mission of creating a sustainable energy economy and reducing excessive carbon emissions—regarded as being damaging to the environment.

With Honest Tea, Goldman said, “We talk about our product with a mission in the bottle. That means that we think about our impact on consumers and on the community, it’s directly in the bottle. It’s not a model where we try to make a lot of profit then give it all away. We look to design our products so that every time we sell a bottle, we’re having an impact on the consumer and an impact on the community.”

In addition, both have experienced exponential growth in a relatively short period of time, and can be considered as Davids facing their respective Goliaths. Honest Tea, through Goldman’s leadership, has been able to make itself a force in the markets in which it serves. Similarly, wind energy has made large strides in recent years, and led all energy sources among new installed capacity in 2012—drawing $25 billion in wind energy investments that year.

And although Honest Tea was able to build its business rapidly, that’s not to say there weren’t challenges. Distribution, at least in the early years, was difficult to manage for the beverage company, Goldman said. In addition, one of the larger challenges was creating new products that people would want to purchase and drink—especially at a higher cost.

“If someone’s just looking to hydrate, Honest Tea is not the cheapest option out there,” Goldman said. “The fact that we’re organic, the fact that we’re small scale… we’re never going to have that advantage.”

Instead, Goldman said, the key is to focusing on the whole of the opportunity you have, and maintaining confidence that people will share and appreciate the totality of the commitment you’re making—commitment to integrity and sustainability.

“You’ve got to understand the long-term opportunity,” Goldman said. “For us, some of the keys were: how do you get people to appreciate that they can be part of that change? How can we help you do something better for yourself, and how do we communicate what organic means and why we think it’s a better option. If we can do that, we’re empowering you to do something better for the world. Not just for the earth, but for the people involved in it. “

In further illustrating his point, Goldman drew from one of the “bottle cap quotes” Honest Tea prints on the underside of Honest Tea caps. It reads: “If we don’t change the direction we’re headed, we will end up where we are going.”

“What wind energy is about to me is changing the direction our society is going, and trying to get it away from being a petroleum-based economy to a more sustainable direction with an endlessly renewable resource.”

Honest Tea operates out of Bethesda, Maryland. More information, including a full listing of products and flavors, a full company history, corporate information, executive bios, and Seth and Barry’s original business plan can be viewed at

Products in the Honest Tea portfolio include:

• Honest Tea—made from high-quality, USDA Organic Certified, Fair Trade Certified tea leaves. Available in more than 20 different flavors, Honest Tea is high in antioxidants, high in flavor, and low in calories.

• Honest Kids— juice beverages packaged in smaller, kid-friendly packaging; and Honest Splash, its larger-portioned counterpart.

• Honest Fizz—a naturally sweetened, zero calorie soda—available in four flavors.

• Honest Ade—organic fruit-flavored thirst quenchers in four flavors.

• Honest Zero—organic 100 percent natural, zero-calorie drinks.