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Happy 17th Birthday Honest Tea

SethBarry

17 years ago (almost exactly to the day), I turned on the Packard-Bell computer in a bedroom of my house and started Honest Tea.  On that first day, there were an infinite number of “unknowns,” as well as a few “knowns,”all of which guided the direction of the company. There still are plenty of “unknowns” and “knows” of our business.

“Knowns” from the beginning:

  • My co-founder Barry and I were on the same page – he was going to be my partner, advisor and Chairman of the Board while keeping his day job as an Economics professor at the Yale School of Management.
  • We had an aspiration to create a mission-driven brand and enterprise that could have a positive impact on health, on the environment and on its supplier communities.
  • We had $50,000 in the bank, not coincidentally, an amount I had received a few months prior from the proceeds of an investment my Dad made in my name back in 1970.
  • We had a few varieties of tea that we had made in Barry’s kitchen that seemed promising – among them green tea with mint which became Moroccan Mint, spiced tea which became Kashmiri Chai and brewed hibiscus with fruit based on a German dessert known as Rote Grutze that became Black Forest Berry.
  • Of the many label concepts we had developed, the one with the big T in the front, in which the T acted like a keyhole into the culture behind the tea recipe, seemed the most promising.
  • My wife and three sons were on board for the ride – Julie was ready to put up with a brewmaster living in the basement and the boys were happy to serve as taste testers, even if our youngest Isaac had to drink his Black Forest Berry from a baby bottle.

Seth_1998_FronofPallet

Over the following months, we figured out where to buy bottles, labels and caps, where to make our product, and lots of other challenges.  Seventeen years later we’re in more than 100,000 stores and part of the world’s biggest beverage company.  Here are the Knowns about our business today:

  • We’ve built a brand that delivers – just a tad sweet (if sweetened at all), certified organic and Fair Trade certified whenever possible.
  • We’ve built a spirited and passionate team of people that still brings competitive, creative and entrepreneurial energy to their work.
  • Consumer tastes and preferences continue to evolve toward a transparent approach to food –they want to know how their food was grown — where it comes from and how it was harvested.
  • There is strong support for our brand and organization from our parent company –as the beverage landscape shifts, we continue to be an important part of The Coca-Cola Company’s future.  From the Chairman to the bottler, we see tremendous appreciation of our team, our mission and our business.  It helps that we have consistently outperformed our annual business targets of volume, gross margin and operating income.
  • My family is still intact and on board.  The brewmaster moved out, and the older boys are in college but Isaac, who graduates from high school this Spring, still stops by the office for the occasional taste test

And yet there are still some Unknowns:

  • How wide and how deep can we expand our quest to democratize organics?  Our brand is now expanding to fast food restaurants and convenience stores, venues where we either haven’t been or have struggled to succeed.  We know that consumer diets and preferences are evolving toward what we are offering… but how long will it take for the majority to get there?
  • How do we connect emotionally with that broader audience, and deliver to them a message that inspires them to choose Honest?
  • Can we continue to innovate with our brand and our marketing in a way that drives our mission forward?

Thanks for all your wonderful efforts and dedication in building the Honest brand.  And happy Honest birthday to us all.

Honestly yours, Seth

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