More on Honest Tea & Coke

Posted by Rob Walker on February 12, 2008
Posted Under: Ethics,Sustenance,Wal-Mart

The other day I linked to this Chews Wise (Sam Fromartz, author of Organic Inc.) post about Honest Tea‘s new relationship with Coca Cola. Two updates on that. Marketing Profs blog offers a few other examples of niche food/beverage brands, particularly with some kind of organic or other feel-good hook, being bought giants. (It also notes that Clorox “quietly” bought Burt’s Bees recently. I’m not sure how quiet that was, but here’s a huge New York Times story on the subject from a month ago.) The blog says:

On the positive side, the mega food companies also greatly expand distribution for their acquired brands, and have the ability to market with much deeper pockets. They sometimes even allow their new baby brands to influence some of their business thinking. While it is now au courant to become green or more natural, for example, the insights and influence corporate giants are getting from their newly acquired brands has actually begun to effect change in their thinking. . .and that’s a good thing.

Second, Mr. Fromartz has gone direct to the source and done a quite interesting Q&A with Honest Tea co-founder Seth Goldman. I recommend checking out the whole thing, but a few things I want to highlight here.

Goldman specifically mentions the distribution issue noted above as a major plus for his company in the new deal. I can’t tell you how many times this comes up when I interview startup entrepreneurs — you can have all the clever marketing and awesome consumer evangelism you want, but without distribution, you’re limited.

Most interestingly, Goldman even cites McDonald’s as “an example of the kind of account that we will now have access to,” meaning they can at least get in the door for a meeting, because of the Coke connection. It might seem surprising that a successful new beverage can’t do that on its own. And I’m not in a position to say with certainty whether it’s 100% true all the time. But it doesn’t surprise me at all; it’s quite consistent with stories I’ve heard before, in plenty of categories.

Then Goldman offers another example: Wal-Mart, he says, is a place where Honest Tea “should be.” Fromartz of course brings up the obvious question of how Honest Tea loyalists might respond to their little brand popping up in such places. Goldman:

We’ve gotten a lot of emails, mostly positive but some negative. One of the most important points is I’m not trying to excuse or rationalize what Coke sells. They’ve obviously been successful at it. But if people think their product is unhealthy, then their desire should be to see more Honest Tea available wherever Coke is sold.

Further diversion may be found at MKTG Tumblr, and the Consumed Facebook page.

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