Bethesda-born Honest Tea dropped by Coca-Cola

Coca-Cola will discontinue production and sales of organic tea line Honest Tea, a move called a “gut punch” by the Bethesda entrepreneur who founded the company in his kitchen 24 years ago.

Honest Tea will be phased out by the end of 2022.

“The Coca-Cola Company is challenging itself to think differently about how it brands help accelerate business transformation, reflect consumer choice and promote growth as a company. This means rationalizing its lineup of drinks and prioritizing fewer, bigger brands with the greatest potential for scale and profitable growth,” Coca-Cola said in a statement.

Coke said Gold Peak and Peace Tea will now anchor its ready-to-drink tea strategy in North America.

Seth Goldman came up with the concept after experimenting with organic tea recipes as an alternative to high sugar teas and sodas. Goldman and one of his Yale professors Barry Nalebuff, who raised money from friends and family, launched the Honest Tea business in 1998.

Its first big retail break was a contract with then-Fresh Fields, the organic grocer later acquired by Whole Foods.

A selection of Honest Tea’s 16.9 fl. oz. tea varieties with updated labels and new bottle. (AP/Business Wire)

Coca Cola took a 40% stake in Honest Tea in 2008 and bought the company outright in 2011.

“Today’s announcement by Coca-Cola that they will be discontinuing Honest Tea is a gut punch to all the sweat, tears and incredible passion that went into building our beloved brand,” Goldman said in a tweet.

“I am grateful for the hundreds of amazing people who helped Barry Nalebuff and me grow this idea from five thermoses and an empty Snapple bottle into more than a billion bottles sold.”

Goldman is an active investor in planet-friendly, nutrient-dense diet concepts. His current investments include Bethesda-based Eat the Change, with chef partner Spike Mendelsohn, whose ventures include PLNT Burger, a fast-food concept whose menus include Beyond Meat products.

Eat the Change has also developed a line of plant-based healthy snacks. Goldman’s Honest Kids line of organic fruit juice drinks is not affected by Coke’s decision to discontinue Honest Tea.

As for the apparent demise of the Honest Tea brand, Goldman tweeted: “As Dr. Seuss wrote, Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.”

Jeff Clabaugh

Jeff Clabaugh has spent 20 years covering the Washington region's economy and financial markets for WTOP as part of a partnership with the Washington Business Journal, and officially joined the WTOP newsroom staff in January 2016.

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