Occasionally we receive inquiries when our parent company, Coca-Cola, supports an effort or an organization that Honest Tea hasn’t historically supported. These situations raise interesting questions and opportunities for reflection.
I have an older brother who votes Republican. He served in the U.S. Army for 25 years, is active in his community, gives generously to charities, and is a father of four wonderful children. Since I’m a lifelong Democrat, my brother and I fundamentally disagree on a wide variety of political issues, but there’s no one I trust more to advise me on finances and our families spend every major holiday together (where there’s always at least one lively conversation about politics).
Honest Tea has been a part of The Coca-Cola Company for the past 15 months, ever since the mission-driven enterprise I started out of my house in 1998 was acquired by the world’s largest beverage company. Distribution of our lightly-sweetened, organic and Fair Trade certified teas has expanded dramatically since the transaction – in 2008 when Coke invested in Honest Tea, we were in 15,000 accounts. Today our products can be found in over 100,000 accounts.
As the first company to launch a certified organic bottled tea, Honest Tea has had a longstanding commitment to simple, GMO-free ingredients. In fact, recently we’ve been a little frustrated with requests to certify that our products are GMO-free, because the USDA Organic seal certifies that our beverages have met the USDA’s rigorous standards, including the use of ingredients that are non-GMO and grown without the use of synthetic pesticides.
We’ve also had a longstanding commitment to transparency that is as strong today as when we began:
· We were among the first companies to display total calories per bottle (instead of just per 8 ounce serving) as well as among the first to display the calories on the front of our package, as part of the Clear on Calories initiative.
· We’re about to issue our third annual Mission Report which discloses and evaluates our efforts and shortcomings toward achieving our mission of democratizing organics, extending economic opportunity to communities in need, and expanding the reach of lightly-sweetened beverages. Unlike many corporate social responsibility updates, our Mission Report is not a cheerleading document, but rather a thoughtful analysis that shares our shortcomings and challenges on everything from our carbon footprint to supplier community partnerships.
· And we certainly have tried to be transparent about the fact that we’re owned by Coca-Cola, and the inevitable challenges that arise when a mission-driven group of entrepreneurs works alongside a 126-year old multinational corporation.
There are bound to be moments when our enterprise does not share all of the same ideas as our parent company. But there’s never been any pressure to compromise Honest Tea’s products, our ingredients, or our commitment to our mission. Some may recall that we had a lively conversation with Coca-Cola back in 2010 when we received a request to remove the “no high fructose corn syrup!” language from our Honest Kids package. We declined the request, and Coke accepted our decision. As a member of the Coca-Cola family, Honest Tea is a voice for our approach to organic agriculture, Fair Trade and health and wellness – as evidenced by remarks I gave on trust and transparency earlier this month at Coke’s international meeting of its senior leadership and largest customers.
Does the analogy of family members coexisting despite a diversity of viewpoints extend to a large corporation? In many ways it does. I’ve learned a lot from my brother over the years, from soccer to wrestling to tax preparation. And I’d like to think that a few of my beliefs have rubbed off on him.