Honest Tea and PLNT Burger co-founder and Eat the Change CEO Seth Goldman visited the Georgetown community on November 29 to speak with students about developing mission-driven companies with the goal of delivering net impact concepts to the marketplace.
While attending Yale School of Management, Goldman noticed that a major problem faced by marketplace competitors was that it was mainly a two-dimensional field, particularly in the context of the Coke versus Pepsi products. This inspired the creation of Honest Tea, where his life-long career in social impact began. In this case setting, it was essentially two artificially produced beverages, Coke or Pepsi, pitted against each other — neither offering any differential value to consumers.
The goal was to create a three-dimensional landscape concept, targeting the beverage industry, by introducing an organic product that would offer value to consumers beyond the contents of the bottle. While he did not immediately pursue Honest Tea at the idea’s inception, he later reconnected with his a former professor to bring the business to life.
Goldman focused on establishing new ways to infuse his driving mission of “democratizing organics” and delivering net impact to the marketplace with Honest Tea. Once the product was launched in stores, the fair-trade movement began to attract more companies that competed with Honest Tea’s impact-oriented business plan.
“Just because you go first does not mean you own the idea. You must innovate to stay ahead,” said Goldman to the audience.
While the core of Honest Tea’s mission is to create tasty, healthy beverages, Goldman used his social-impact focused brand to support other issues he cares about outside of these constraints.
Even though it has been 23 years since Honest Tea launched and Goldman is no longer in charge, he believes it is the same brand today as it was in 1998.
Goldman also highlighted his continued pursuit of addressing the issues he cares about throughout his career and personal life. Goldman’s family is vegetarian – and he and his wife have been vegan for the past two years. Frustrated with the quality of plant-based proteins, Goldman contacted Beyond Meat to help develop the company’s industry presence and refine the product to meet consumer standards. Since then, he has helped to open PLNT Burger, a fast-food restaurant serving an entirely plant-based menu.
Goldman also leads Eat the Change, an organization he views as a “call to action.” He believes that the choice people make for filling their plates every day is one of the most impactful decisions and his role at Eat the Change gives him the power to positively influence such decisions.
Goldman closed the discussion with a question for the audience: “In your own branding decisions, your personal choices should be important to you. Use your time in business school to think about what you care about and then pursue work that you care about. What will you choose to hold yourself accountable for?”