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"I Hope Your Values and Integrity Inspire Coke"

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Here's my last exchange with Julie, the Honest Tea customer who is disappointed that we made a deal with Coke.

Julie wrote:

Hi Seth,

I very much appreciate your articulate and personal response, and I have a lot of respect for the opinions and information that you've shared. The arguments that you make are thoughtful, compelling, and obviously genuine.

But in the end, I still feel that supporting Honest Tea now forces me to indirectly support Coca-Cola, which is something that I've made a conscious decision and effort not to do. That decision may change in time, but that will depend more on Coca-Cola than it does on Honest Tea.

I do not worry that Coca-Cola will adulterate your product, or that Honest Tea will change its practices -- you've made it clear that Honest Tea is still in charge of Honest Tea. But at this point, I do not share the belief that by working with Honest Tea, Coca-Cola is changing its harmful business practices, particularly abroad. (When working in rural China, I was disturbed to find children drinking very old Coca-Cola out of very old cans that no longer meet U.S. safety standards due to choking hazard.) Expanding their product line-up to include something healthy, organic, and socially just does not do anything to change the rest of their products or to change the practices involved in making those products. Until I see those changes, I choose not to support Coca-Cola or any of its subsidiaries and associates.

I thought a lot about your argument that organic products need to be democratized and that they should be available in regions of the country where organics are not widely available. I do share this vision, and while I agree that it's important to avoid being "elitist" in how products are distributed, I also think that it's my responsibility as a global citizen and consumer to be critical of the means that are used to accomplish that end. What I wonder is whether partnering with Coca-Cola was the only means to achieve wider distribution of Honest Tea products?

As I said before, I know you've asked yourself these questions, and I have a lot of respect for the values and integrity you've demonstrated in building your company, advancing the availability of organic options in the market, and even taking the time to personally respond to disgruntled and demanding consumers. Therefore, I can respect your path, as I'm sure you respect mine. As their new business partner, I sincerely hope that your values and integrity will inspire some tangible changes in Coca-Cola's practices.

Thank you again for your honest response,
Julie

My response:

Thanks Julie. I talked with my wife last night about your note and she said "The world needs more people like her -- people who hold their convictions firmly and act on them." And I think that's true, but we still hate to lose you as a customer!

Last updated: Mar 21, 2008

SETH GOLDMAN | Columnist | Co-founder of Honest Tea

Seth Goldman is the President and TeaEO of Honest Tea, the company he co-founded in 1998 with Professor Barry Nalebuff of the Yale School of Management. He's preparing the September release of a graphic novel titled Mission in a Bottle.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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