Honest Tea’s Mission To Sell Less-Sugary Beverages Includes Philanthropy

Corporate Goals Tied Directly to Sweet Tzedakah

Reduce, Reuse: Honest Tea ‘TeaEO’ Seth Goldman (third from right) celebrates the company’s recycling campaign in Manhattan’s Times Square.
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Reduce, Reuse: Honest Tea ‘TeaEO’ Seth Goldman (third from right) celebrates the company’s recycling campaign in Manhattan’s Times Square.

By Curt Schleier

Published November 04, 2013.
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It all started with a jog.

On a business trip to New York in 1997, Seth Goldman went for a run in Central Park.

Afterwards, he couldn’t find a drink to quench his thirst. Everything on store shelves was either too sweet or loaded with artificial ingredients.

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So it got him to thinking about an MBA class he’d taken at Yale University three years earlier, where the subject of creating a less sweet beverage business had come up. Goldman contacted his old professor, Barry Nalebuff, and asked if anything ever came of that.

The short answer was “no,” so the pair decided to try to create a tea that had sugar levels that fell somewhere between no sugar and the very sugary industry standard.

The result: Honest Tea. They shared their experiences — warts and all — in their new book, “Mission in a Bottle: The Honest Guide to Doing Business Differently — and Succeeding.”

Their concept, outlined in the company’s mission statement, went beyond using less sugar in their products. The pair wanted to sell a natural tea, and do it in socially responsible way, by using fair trade ingredients, operating in an ecologically sustainable manner, and supporting a variety of charities.

A common plea to donors in charity circles is to give until it hurts, Nalebuff, 55, said. “My father had a line I am particularly fond of. He said you should give until it feels good, which is apparently after it hurts.”

He added: “We support everything from Race for the Cure to the Susan Komen Foundation. We’re building computer centers in India for the children of tea pluckers.”

For Goldman and Nalebuff — and therefore for Honest Tea — philanthropy means more than just giving away money or free bottles of tea, which they often do at charity events.


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