From Honest to Just: Seth Goldman unveils Just Ice Tea… ‘We’ve been in conversation with numerous retailers eager to launch with us’

By Elaine Watson contact

- Last updated on GMT

From Honest to Just: Seth Goldman unveils Just Ice Tea… ‘We’ve been in conversation with numerous retailers eager to launch with us’

Related tags: Seth Goldman, Just Ice Tea, ready to drink tea, Honest Tea

Barely a month after Coca-Cola announced plans to phase out HONEST Tea, co-founder Seth Goldman, who sold the organic tea brand to Coca-Cola in 2011, says he plans to launch in a few months a new line of bottled organic teas under the ‘Just Ice Tea’ brand.

According to a trademark application​ filed on June 14 by Eat the Change​ (a company founded by Goldman and Chef Spike Mendelsohn in 2020 that makes organic mushroom jerky and veggie kids’ snacks), the trademark JUST ICE TEA would cover tea, tea-based beverages, and bottled tea-based beverages.

Asked whether he anticipated any IP issues given that Just Egg maker Eat Just has filed several trademark applications​ in the US featuring the term ‘Just,' Goldman told FoodNavigator-USA: “We do not believe there are​.” (FoodNavigator-USA has contacted Eat Just for comment and will update this article when it hears back.)

'​It’s safe to assume that many formulations will bear a resemblance to Honest Tea'

So what will the lineup look like?

“We haven’t announced the line up yet,” ​said Goldman, “but it’s safe to assume that many formulations will bear a resemblance to Honest Tea, but will be different too – they will all have Chef Spike’s chef-crafted touch, and of course, will remain inside the Eat the Change guardrails, which means no cane sugar.

“We did use organic sugar, just a tad, at Honest Tea, but since Eat the Change has committed to supporting biodiversity by avoiding the six most common crops, we will be using alternative sweeteners, such as agave and honey.”

UNFI, KeHE on deck for launch

Eat the Change has lined up co-packing to produce the teas, and will work UNFI and KeHE for the launch, Goldman confirmed, adding the company has "been in conversation with numerous retailers who are eager to launch with us, but we haven't announced any yet."

The company also is keeping close to its vest how the beverages will be packaged. 

While the trade obviously knows Goldman’s credentials and history with organic ready-to-drink tea, the consumers he is targeting with the new Just Ice Tea brand probably won’t make that connection, so to what extent will this be like starting from scratch with shoppers?

“It will be starting a bit from scratch, but not entirely,” ​​claimed Goldman, who said he felt both a responsibility to organic tea growers with whom the HONEST brand had spent two decades cultivating relationships, and a strong belief that there is a market for organic and Fair Trade offerings in the category, despite the fact that sales of the teas were presumably not meeting Coke’s expectations.

Speaking to us  earlier this month​,​ he added: “There was a significant market for HONEST Tea. It was the top-selling tea brand in the natural category, and that is an enviable position to hold. We believe that opportunity on its own is a great place to capture and then to innovate from there.”

seth goldman eat the change
Seth Goldman: 'The word ‘Just’ appeals to us for so many reasons...' Image credit: Eat the Change

'​With every pound of ingredients we buy, we pay a premium that goes directly to the workers'

In a linkedin​​ post​​​ penned Wednesday, Goldman said: “The word ‘Just’ appeals to us for so many reasons. First, Just speaks to a set of working standards that we aspire to support. By committing to Fair Trade Certified sourcing we support a third-party inspection system which ensures all our suppliers comply with International Labor Organization standards (including no child or prison labor) and pay the tea pluckers and factory workers a fair wage.

“In addition, with every pound of ingredients we buy, we pay a premium that goes directly to the workers for them to reinvest in their communities.
 
“Just also speaks to our aspiration to respect and support our planet. By making all our varieties certified organic, we commit to a third-party verified approach to avoid the use of synthetic pesticides, herbicides, insecticides, and fertilizers.
 
“And finally, Just also speaks to the taste and formulation of our drinks. We use recognizable and minimal ingredients in every recipe, and of course nothing artificial.”

'Our tea growers worried that Coke’s action could be seen as a loss of confidence in organic and Fair Trade USA agriculture'

Explaining why he had decided to get back into the tea business, he said: “The response to Coke’s announcement helped me appreciate that for millions of people HONEST Tea is more than ‘just a tad sweet’ bottled teas. It is a different approach to ingredients, to the planet and to people: employees, farmers and tea drinkers.​​

“Our tea growers worried that Coke’s action could be seen as a loss of confidence in organic and Fair Trade USA agriculture, a decision that could dampen the global desire to invest in these higher standards. As one of our suppliers wrote to me, ‘We have been so inspired to be part of the journey that you led, and want to try to continue the effort and fight the suggestion that this was all a failed experiment.’”​​

'I believe that HONEST Tea and what it represents was about future forward thinking'

In a May 23 press release ​​​announcing its plans ​​to phase out the HONEST Tea brand by the end of this year, Coca-Cola said its ‘mainstream’ brands such as Gold Peak and Peace Tea were driving growth in the RTD tea category, and would henceforth be the ‘anchor’ of it tea business in North America, although the HONEST Kids brand would remain part of the portfolio.

Howard Telford, head of soft drinks at Euromonitor International, told FoodNavigator-USA: "Given the higher price point for organics and tough trading environment generally in terms of price, this isn’t completely surprising – although it hasn’t been a stellar year for the wider ready-to-drink tea category either.  ​​

HONEST Kids​​ seems to have developed and maintained a niche as the better-for-you option within mass kids juice drinks,​​​ whereas perhaps HONEST Tea was caught in the middle in terms of category segmentation."​​​

Goldman - who stepped away from day-to-day operations at the brand in late 2015 after moving into the executive chairman role at Beyond Meat – disputed the notion that HONEST Tea had lost relevance, telling us: "I believe that HONEST Tea and what it represents was about future forward thinking, thinking about where the world is going, around transparency, around health of the planet, around health of the consumer."​​​

While Gold Peak has a premium positioning, he added, "​​​I certainly felt there was enough space between them ​​​[Gold Peak vs HONEST Tea, which is organic and Fairtrade] in terms of the sweetness profile, the ingredients, and the sourcing."​​​

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