Honest Tea...doing it right

I recently read the latest blog entry from Seth Goldman, co-founder of Honest Tea, regarding the variety of reactions they received after redesigning their plastic bottles. They pursued a new bottle design in an effort to decrease weight and still maintain the identity that they've managed to create over the past 1o years of offering honestly good, slightly sweet tea.

While I was fascinated to learn of the lighter bottle movement, I was most interested in reading how they dealt with a particular accusation from one of their customers. Here it is:

John: "I just bought a bottle of Orange Mango, and was amazed that the bottle is so deceptively designed. The bottom of the bottle has been designed with a hollow to displace fluid, making it appear that the customer is buying more than is the case. Yes it's 16.9 ounces, but I'm sure your marketing dept has determined that purchases are based on visual impressions. I have bought your product regularly, but will stop. With a name like Honest Tea, I would expect more than these types of cheap tricks!"

So, how should Honest Tea respond to this? Confront it head on (with humility) or discount it as just one customer's isolated incident and accusation. I had a hunch as to how they'd respond since I've been following Honest Tea for a few years now.

I should disclose that I'm a fan of their product and talk about their company in my Creativity, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship class. I don't do it in a "you need to go and buy this" kind of way, but more in an appreciation for how Seth and his partner, Barry, originally created their product and how they continue to refine the brand in an effort to bring authenticity to the marketplace.

There's real value in offering products that are genuine and authentic; not products composed of hype and arrogance. Those kinds of products fizzle out over time because they fail to deliver in the long haul and because hot air can only keep you aloft for a short amount of time. Instead, I'm interested in cultivating a mindset of sustainability and permanence and Honest Tea continues to reflect this type of thinking.

Seth's blog, titled The Mission Driven Business, offers a look into the types of decisions that one goes through when playing in the pure, good, authentic, and organic marketspace. If you go back a few months, you'll learn that Coca-Cola purchased a 40% share of Honest Tea for $40 million. Not surprisingly, this exciting news was not welcomed by all of Honest Tea's most vibrant of supporters. One such supporter named Julie voiced her genuine concerns to Seth and he outlines his responses to her in the blog. If you've ever wanted a role model for how to respond to criticism by your previously-ardent supporters, check out the tone of this dialogue. A few excerpts are highlighted below:

Julie: "As a business that has built its reputation over the past decade on a commitment to healthy organic products, environmental quality, and social justice for its producers, Honest Tea's decision to partner with Coca-Cola -- a multinational corporation that has consistently violated all three of these principles in their global business practices -- confounds me."
Seth: "I believe that every time we sell a bottle of Honest Tea we are doing a positive thing for the people picking/processing the leaves, the ecosystem, and the consumer. If you accept this first assumption, as I do, then I believe it is my responsibility to make Honest Tea as powerful as I can. The more we sell -- provided it is the same product we have been selling for the past ten years -- the more good we do."
Julie: "By partnering with Coca-Cola, you may gain a net increase of customers at mainstream retail outlets, but you will alienate those who previously valued your commitment to social and environmental responsibility."
Seth: "...(I)encourage you to keep a close eye on what we sell and how we sell it. If we change our fidelity to the Honest brand, please let me know and I'll respect your right to take your business elsewhere."

What makes the Honest Tea story so interesting is the conviction with which we see Seth respond to these types of challenges. Whether it be in how to respond to "customers who previously thought you could do no wrong" to "customers who think you're now trying to trick and deceive them", Seth's humility and sensitivity is evident. He's a role model, for sure.

Click to read Seth's blog entry in its entirety.

What are your thoughts as you read about this?

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