Steadily over the past decade, US consumers have become more committed to keeping our planet livable. More and more, they vote with their wallets to realize that idea. The brands that align with them — or better yet, those that lead — in this existential fight continue to survive and thrive.
But, there are outliers to this rule. After Coca-Cola acquired Honest Tea in 2011, the brand stayed true to the values that had launched it in 1998 and through its rags to riches story. It continued to use only organic, Fair Trade ingredients and worked to reduce its environmental footprint.
Yet it did not survive. But with that end, a new brand was born.
To tea or not to tea?
Seth Goldman, one of Honest Tea’s founders, had stayed closely involved with the brand, including a stint as its “TeaEO,” until 2019, when he launched a new food company with celebrity chef Spike Mendelsohn. Eat the Change (featured in this column, June, 2021) offers plant-based, organic, nutrient-dense snacks that are planet- and climate-friendly, as well as produced sustainably.
Goldman had no plans to get back into the tea business after Coca-Cola discontinued Honest Tea. He says. “We were just like, ‘Oh my goodness, this brand that we all love and built and put so much heart into is going away.’ And then once the dust sort of settled on that sadness, we said, ‘Well, wait a minute. There’s a $100-million business opportunity just being vacated.’”
It’s not like [Coke] ended the category,” says Goldman. “They’re just ending the brand that built the category … The category is still there …The shelves are still there. The retailers still know there’s a business there. And the whole supply chain is still there — the tea growers, the distributors, the bottling plants, and the retailers.”
The customers are still there, too. “What’s been fun about this is we’re seeing consumers rally around us because they share the cause,” says Goldman.
From zero to tea in three months
So, Goldman and Mendelsohn — who leads innovation at Eat the Change — leapt into action. Within three months after learning that their beloved brand was ending –announced their company’s official entrance into the bottled-tea market.
Just Ice Tea, an organic iced tea brand under the Eat the Change label, focuses on sourcing simple ingredients and Fair Trade Certified teas and sweeteners.
Because Eat the Change already had a team of people in place and a supply chain ready to step in, Goldman insists that Just Ice Tea isn’t a startup, per se. He does, however, concede that the new brand’s brief inspiration-to-shelf turnaround time was impressive. “Three months,” he says. “No one’s done anything like that.”
Fairness and justice
“Just Ice Tea is picking up where Honest Tea left off,” says Goldman, “but we are tripling down on our commitments to our core values — Fair Trade Certified, organic, and just sweet enough,” he says. “We are thrilled to have the opportunity to once again serve, and hopefully expand, the community of tea growers and retailers we assembled with Honest Tea.”
“Just” in the new brand’s name also refers to the set of working standards and environmental principles it supports through Fair Trade premiums. The fact that tea is one of the world’s cheapest commodities, and that the brand is buying some of the world’s best tea leaves, says Goldman, means that it can and should invest in the communities that produce it. “We have to live up to the name: Just Ice Tea,” he says.
Honest Tea had been the first bottled tea brand to offer organic and Fair Trade-certified varieties, and Just Ice Tea continues its commitment to supporting the planet through organic certification, which uses a third-party verified approach to avoid the use of synthetic pesticides, herbicides, insecticides, and fertilizers. Goldman expects more authorizations for the brand will follow soon.
But, whereas Honest Tea came in both plastic and glass bottles, Just Ice Tea uses only glass. “We didn’t think we could credibly talk about planet-friendly food in a plastic bottle,” Goldman points out.
Mission in a bottle
As a purpose-driven brand aiming for optimal human- and planetary health, Just Ice Tea sticks to the same strict criteria as all Eat the Change products: only organic, plant-based ingredients that avoid the six crops — sugar, corn, rice, wheat, potatoes, and soy — that represent more than half of all global agricultural output.
The company’s mission also includes minimizing waste by upcycling imperfect ingredients and choosing water-efficient crops. It also democratizes planet-friendly foods through both its products and its ETC Impact grant program, which supports community-based nonprofits that work to promote and expand access to climate-friendly foods in the US.
Goldman expects Just Ice Tea will help drive awareness of and interest in Eat the Change’s other products and sustainable and altruistic activities. “It’s about embedding that impact and mission in the product,” he says. “If we were just doing charitable giveaways with our profits, that’s the kind of thing that can be phased out or paid away. But people know with our product, every bottle has that impact in it.”
If you’d like to dive deeper with more purpose-led companies like Just Ice Tea check out the Lead with We podcast here, so that you too can build a company that transforms consumer behavior and our future.