Honest Tea Founder Resigns as TeaEO

Honest Tea founder Seth Goldman will step down as TeaEO as sales top 300 million bottles, a milestone well beyond that achieved by rival organic tea brands.

Coca-Cola, which purchased controlling shares in the brand Goldman started in his kitchen 20 years ago, will assume full management responsibilities. Goldman, 50, will remain available to the company part time and retain an equity stake of less than 10% of the privately held company.

WTN151202_SethGoldman_WithTea“We were totally a stand-alone. Now what happens is it becomes part of the Coca-Cola portfolio,” he said.

“Changing my role at a company that I painstakingly built for the past 18 years, and is in a period of phenomenal growth, is a big deal for me,” Goldman told the Washington Post.

Goldman will become executive chairman of Beyond Meat, a start-up whose plant-based products mimic the taste and protein value of meat, he said.  “I am so excited by the mission and opportunity of Beyond Meat that I can’t resist the challenge of helping to guide the growth of an enterprise I believe can be a major driver of health and environmental change.”

Goldman championed Fair Trade sourcing and organic tea at the onset which aligned the company with Whole Foods Market which helped launch the brand, now valued at $170 million per year. Goldman transitioned the product smoothly and opened new markets for Coca-Cola, such as Smashburger, Chick-fil-A and Wendy’s which became the first large fast-food chain to serve organic teas.

Honest Tea offices will remain in Bethesda, Maryland, but the company’s top executive will be based in Coca-Cola’s Atlanta headquarters.

In 1997 Goldman and one of his professors at Yale, Barry Nalebuff, decided that tea was the ideal base for a non-sugary health drink. Nalebuff came up with the name and Goldman perfected the formula in his kitchen, selling bottles to a local health food store later acquired by Whole Foods.  By 2006 Honest Tea was selling 1.5 million cases a year. In 2011 Coca-Cola came knocking, mindful of the steep decline in carbonated soda.  Coke acquired a controlling interest over time and agreed to retain Goldman as Honest Tea’s chief executive as long as he wished to stay.

Source: Washington Post