Organic Inspiration

Seth Goldman, “TeaEO” at Honest Tea, speaks to Jewish professionals about running a mission-driven business. (Marc Shapiro)

Seth Goldman, “TeaEO” at Honest Tea, speaks to Jewish professionals about running a mission-driven business.
(Marc Shapiro)

When Seth Goldman started making tea is his kitchen in 1998, he couldn’t imagine in his wildest dreams how much Honest Tea would blossom.

“If you had told me 16 years ago that I’d be running an organization that was involved in helping to eliminate millions of calories from the American diet, helping to promote the spread of organic agriculture and helping to support fair trade labor standards in the developing world, I would have said, ‘Oh, that sounds like an amazing nonprofit,’” said Goldman. “I never would have guessed that it could be a beverage company, let alone one that today is owned by the Coca-Cola Company.”

The Honest Tea “TeaEO” spoke about the growth of his company and running a mission-driven business at The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore’s Business and Professional Affinities’ spring event on April 2. His tea company, which is fair trade, organic and kosher, is the U.S.’s top-selling bottled organic tea.

Goldman spoke about the formation of the company, how it keeps true to its ideals and how it has expanded into kids drinks and soda. Before Coca-Cola invested, Honest Tea bought 800,000 pounds of organic ingredients in one year. Last year, the company bought more than 5 million pounds, and this year, Honest Tea is on track to buy more than 8 million pounds of organic ingredients, said Goldman.

Approximately 100 people attended the lunch to network, catch up with friends and hear Goldman speak. But at least one person in the audience was hoping to be the next Seth Goldman.

Blake Wollman, 36, started selling his all-natural hummus at area farmers markets in 2011. He first made hummus in the kitchen of his Mount Washington restaurant, The Desert Café, and the demand was high. But he was bothered by the healthy reputation hummus had gained, considering that the country’s most popular hummus company, Sabra, has preservatives in its hummus.

“So I decided that I needed to look and find out how fattening mine was, and it was one-fifth the fat [compared to Sabra], not to mention all natural,” he said. “I’ve pursed that, and that’s been my mission really — to make an all-natural, low-fat, low-calorie, low-sodium product that tastes good.”

His company’s motto, “Take a walk on the wide side of hummus,” fits with its flavors, which include cinnamon raisin, honey sesame and black truffle, in addition to traditional flavors. The Wild Pea hummus is now being sold at Whole Foods locations in Pennsylvania, Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia, Wegmans in Maryland and at area famers markets and stores.

Wollman already seemed to be following Goldman’s advice. When Honest Tea released its Honest Kids line of organic juice drinks, Goldman realized it cost more than twice the price of Capri Sun.

“We’ve got to sell this on the merits of the product,” said Goldman. “Don’t compete on price; just make the product dramatically different and better.”

And much like Goldman invested in technology to expand his capacity, Wollman invested the right space to make his hummus since The Desert Cafés kitchen wasn’t cutting it.

“It was a small little 10-by-10 kitchen, and the most important thing about hummus is making it cold, keeping it cold, getting it cold, and I had everything against me there,” said Wollman. “So I knew if I was going to take this to the next level I needed to get a better facility.”

He moved into his Baltimore County facility in June 2012 and has refined his practices. On a recent Monday he made 2,400 pounds of hummus, which “seems like a lot, but it’s really not,” he said. And he’s ready for more business.

“We’ve gotten so good at it, we need to get busier now, because now we can get everything done that would have taken us days in [one day],” he said.

Wollman wasn’t the only one fired up by Goldman. Representatives of the Pearlstone Center — where the farm and animals are cared for in sustainable, environmentally conscious ways according to Jewish law — thought the story of Honest Tea fit perfectly with their work.

“Just to see that you can do sustainable and environmentally conscious and socially conscious … it fits along with everything we’re trying to do,” said P.J. Pearlstone, first vice president of Pearlstone’s board of directors.

Jakir Manela, executive director at Pearlstone, said it was a statement in itself that The Associated brought in Goldman to speak to Jewish professionals, and they came out in large numbers. Goldman exemplifies what Manela has seen in recent years, he said: sustainability, organic practices and environmentalism becoming mainstream.

“People still need to be educated, but … we’ve passed that tipping point, and it’s just becoming part of basic consciousness,” he said. “This is how the world works now; we all need to be responsible. It’s a part of business just as much as it’s part of the nonprofit world and it’s part of the Jewish community.”

“The question is,” added Manela, “how long will it take for the ideas to turn into practices?”

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