Honestly Sold, Still Honest

Image from treehugger.com

An article from E Magazine caught my attention, “The Big Green Buyout.” Featured in the article, along with other organic brands, was Honest Tea. I’ve posted reviews of their amazing Peach Oo-la-long and Lori’s Lemon.

Summarizing the sale of Honest Tea to Coke in 2008 and trying to form an opinion of whether it has affected the integrity of Honest Tea and other small organic companies (sold to different corporate leaders, including Kashi, Odwalla, Ben & Jerry’s, Silk), the article gave me some food for thought. The thing I like about Honest Tea is that it is “honest.” The ingredients are listed on the label, and preservatives are not tolerated. Real sugar is used for the slightly sweetened flavors, and the company provides an alternative drink to those loaded with empty calories. Since selling to Coke, that hasn’t changed.

I think it’s commendable that Honest Tea’s CEO Seth Goldman has stood up to Coke about key principles in his small business and won. If a huge company like Coke is paying your salary, would you have the guts to stand up for what you believe? It’s risky, but I think it paid off in the end (and I’m sure he’s still fighting). So it’s like he “sold out,” but he’s simultaneously fighting the big bad corporate world.

You can read the article for yourself, but I think it provided a way in which small companies can expand their outreach–I know I love being able to pick up an occasional bottle of Honest Tea at the grocery store–and keep their ideals too. The way Goldman describes it, Coke needs his little company to give it some integrity (some integrity), so he can afford to stand up for his principles and keep his customers coming back.

Honest Tea also continues to manufacture glass bottles, so Coke hasn’t entirely switched it over to plastic (although, some flavors are available in plastic bottles–they probably ship easier). Glass is more environmentally friendly and you can reuse the bottles. (I really have to start my repurposed glass bottle flower vase project and post about it!)

Even after refusing to remove “no high fructose corn syrup” from his labels (and Coke backed down!), Goldman still says “I can’t imagine any situation in which I wouldn’t speak what I believe.” As a customer who seeks alternatives, I found this reassuring.

Is it possible to change the corporate food world from the inside out? What do you think?

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