Honest Tea CEO Seth Goldman has deep ties to Washington.
Not only does he live in and operate his company from neighboring Bethesda, Maryland. Early in his career he was a staffer for Texas Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, the 1988 Democratic vice presidential nominee most famous for his line about having known President John F. Kennedy during that year’s campaign debates.
Goldman was working for Bentsen at that time. And looking at today’s Congress and its response to changing consumer food tastes, Goldman sees something similar to what his former boss said a quarter-century ago: Many of today’s lawmakers are no Jack Kennedys.
Goldman sold Honest Tea to Coca-Cola Co. in 2011. He still leads the company, which sold its 1 billionth beverage this year. Organic foods, a tiny niche when Honest Tea began in 1998, now accounts for about one-eighth of U.S. fruit and vegetable sales, while the number of farmers’ markets has more than doubled since 2004.
“It feels to me like it’s accelerating, the move toward more organic, more sustainable diets,” he said in an interview.
Not accelerating in response, he said, is Congress.
“Any discussion around agricultural policy just doesn’t happen quickly,” Goldman said. “There’s clearly, like a lot of things, entrenched interests who have a lot invested in the status quo.” As a result, he said, “in terms of how our agricultural system will evolve, or the health of our population, I think it will be a lot more consumer-driven than policy-driven.”
Driving that change, Goldman said, is why he chose to become an entrepreneur, even though he called his time with Bentsen “inspiring.”
“It still feels political in that we are trying to spread ideas and a mindset with our product,” he said.
And each sale is at some level a political act, he said: “Every day is Election Day” for Honest Tea.