We had some fun this week when our Black Forest Berry was mentioned on the front page of The New York Times as the drink of choice for presidential candidate Barack Obama. Our office gets requests every day from consumers trying to find our tea and so we were happy to help Obama campaign aides find stores that carry Honest Tea (we're trying to make it easier, but it's still a challenge in places like Kentucky!). I saw Obama earlier this year, and he told me that while he had previously been a big Community Green drinker, he was steering himself away from the caffeine in green tea in favor of our herbal Black Forest Berry.
I know this kind of publicity can't hurt but am not yet clear how much it helps. As a company we certainly don't take political stances, and I know that our tea has been spotted on the desk of more than one conservative talk show host, so it's nice to know people on all sides of the political spectrum can enjoy a bottled tea together.
I saw a blog that cited Obama's preference for organic bottled tea as an indication that he had elitist tastes. I know there are always people looking for opportunities to throw the "E" word around, but there are few words I find more contrary to what Honest Tea stands for. In fact, I would argue it's elitist to suggest that only rich or highly educated people should have an interest in healthy beverages. From our beginnings ten years ago, we have always strived to offer affordable organic and healthier choices for everyone. In fact, our original $1.19 price point was too low for our own good, especially when most of the competition was out there at $1.69 per bottle for non-organic tea. We lost lots of money in the early years, but we stuck to our lower price because we sold more tea, and we knew we were reaching more people. I know there are stores and restaurants that sell our tea for as much as $6.00 per bottle, but I can assure you that we don't make any more money on those sales than the stores that carry it at $1.49!
In many ways, the deal we made with Coca-Cola will help ensure that we don't become an elitist brand. If our tea is only available at higher-end stores, then the pricing and the venues help feed that elitist image. By contrast, if we're sold wherever Coca-Cola is sold, then we've succeeded in democratizing organics. And that's the kind of democratization all voters can endorse.
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.