As CPGs race to get products to market faster than ever, the pace at which Honest tea co-founder Seth Goldman and his team moved to launch their beverage offering Just Ice Tea this week is fast even by those lofty standards.
After Coca-Cola announced in late May it was discontinuing the Honest tea brand, Goldman announced soon after that he would launch a then-unnamed drink to fill the void. Now, three months later Just Ice Tea is making its way to store shelves — bringing with it many of the same attributes that made Honest tea a success in the first place and, Goldman and others hope, those same consumers.
“I’m fired up,” Goldman said in an interview. “It is faster than anybody does anything in the CPG space, but to be fair, we had a huge advantage and had done it before.”
Goldman started Honest tea in 1998 with his former college professor Barry Nalebuff. During that time, he amassed 20-plus years of relationships with farmers, retailers, customers, bottlers and employees who were instrumental in building Honest tea that he could tap into to quickly establish and grow Just Ice Tea.
The new tea brand will include six flavors that are reincarnations of the most popular Honest tea offerings: Berry Hibiscus, Honey Green, Moroccan Mint, Original Green, Peach Oolong and Half Tea Half Lemonade. Goldman said Just Ice Tea plans to introduce more creative flavors in the spring.
While Just Ice Tea will have similarities to Honest with its use of organic ingredients, a minimal amount of sweetness, as well as the sourcing of Fair Trade Certified teas and sweeteners, it will have some notable differences.
It will use only glass bottles instead of plastic and replace sugar with agave. Eat the Change doesn’t use ingredients from six crops that represent 57% of all agricultural production to support biodiversity in agriculture. One of those crops is sugar cane.
Just Ice Tea will first be distributed at Sprouts Farmers Market nationally and PLNT Burger locations in New York City. Other retailers set to carry the brand include Whole Foods, Hy-Vee and Giant Foods. Goldman said he’s heard reports that Honest tea is running out at some stores, so the launch of Just Ice Tea is especially timely.
Just Ice Tea “is not a startup,” he said. “This is a jumpstart for us to go right into store shelves with a ton of momentum.”
Just Ice Tea will be part of Eat the Change, a two-year-old startup making environmentally friendly, nutrient-dense snacks from carrots, mushrooms and other plant ingredients. The company was founded in 2020 by Goldman and chef Spike Mendelsohn. Last month, Eat the Change raised $14.5 million to support Just Ice Tea’s launch.
Goldman said the tea launch will “enhance” the Eat the Change brand. The company has already convinced some retailers planning to carry the tea to also stock its Carrot Chews and Mushroom Jerky, he said.
In announcing plans to discontinue Honest tea, Coca-Cola said it would anchor its tea business around Gold Peak, a national brand, and regional Peace Tea. Coca-Cola said Honest tea had been negatively impacted by a drop in immediate consumption sales. The Atlanta company wanted to free up its investment resources and supply chain capacity to grow its other offerings.
But Goldman remains convinced there’s robust interest in a beverage like it and that Coca-Cola simply mismanaged the brand it had.
“My belief is that the reason it wasn’t working for [Coca-Cola] is not due to the fact that the brand didn’t make sense or the category was declining. It’s the way that it was managed that didn’t make sense,” he said. “And so, what we’re doing is a lot of the playbook similar to Honest tea. We know what we need to do.”