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Published on October 17th, 2012 | by Jennifer Kaplan

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Prop 37 Greenwash: Honest Tea Responds





Last week I wrote about a number of organic brands with corporate parents that have contributed to the “No on Prop 37″ Campaign. I reached out to all of the brands outed and, as expected, most were silent.  Two brands, however, did reach out and I wanted to share their responses.

Is protecting the values of a single brand good enough? Or should entrepreneurs like Seth Goldman do more to leverage their influence?

To their credit, Honest Tea responded. Their tweet:

Our bevs have always been labeled “NO GMOs” Our co-founder wrote a blog that you might find interesting.

The blog post, written by Seth Goldman, addresses the GMO issue, if not head on, certainly with Prop37 in mind. Seth ponders the question of what to do when their parent company, Coca-Cola, “supports an effort or an organization that Honest Tea hasn’t historically supported.”  Possibly his most plaintive cry come from this statement:

…we certainly have tried to be transparent about the fact that we’re owned by Coca-Cola, and the inevitable challenges that arise when a mission-driven group of entrepreneurs works alongside a 126-year old multinational corporation…

He also goes on to say that Honest Tea has had a longstanding commitment to simple, GMO-free ingredients. He even goes as far as to express frustration because “the USDA Organic seal certifies that our beverages have met the USDA’s rigorous standards, including the use of ingredients that are non-GMO and grown without the use of synthetic pesticides.”

Finally he says:

There are bound to be moments when our enterprise does not share all of the same ideas as our parent company.   But there’s never been any pressure to compromise Honest Tea’s products, our ingredients, or our commitment to our mission.

This is a tough issue. Honest Tea, which is fairly universally loved by the green community, could do more to pressure their corporate parent.  Given how often large companies takeover ethical companies this is no small issue for consumer. That said, one hates to punish good brands for not being perfect. I seem to recall (although I can’t find it) a recent study that showed consumers are tougher on ethical brands than their mass market competitors.  THAT certainly seems counter productive.  So, the question remains: Is Goldman’s response sufficient?

BTW, the other brand that responded, Silk, gave a fairly lame response by Twitter:

As relates to [corporate parent] Dean Foods, can’t say much: recent IPO filing/quiet period. Contact them directly DeanFoods@CaSupport.com

Ugh. But at least they responded.

And (excuse me if you know this already), why exactly do we care are Prop 37? According to a blog post by Charles Margulis, the Center for Environmental Health’s Sustainable Food Program Director:

GMO foods are currently found in 70% of packaged foods in conventional supermarkets, primarily due to ingredients made from GMO soy, corn, canola and sugar beets. The health risks from these untested GMOs are potentially serious, including unexpected allergies, toxicity in foods, altered nutritional levels and other unpredictable side effects of the gene tinkering process…In dozens of other countries GMO labeling is required, but here the FDA claims no authority to require GMO labels on these foods.

So, your thoughts on Seth Goldman’s position?  Is protecting the values of a single brand good enough? Or should entrepreneurs like Seth Goldman do more to leverage their influence?

Photo: Honest Tea

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About the Author

Jennifer Kaplan writes regularly about sustainable food and wine, the intersection of food and marketing and food politics for EatDrinkBetter.com and is the author of Greening Your Small Business (November 2009, Penguin Group (USA)). She was been named one of The 16 Women You Must Follow on Twitter for Green Business. She has four kids, a dog, a hamster and an MBA - find her on .



  • http://glueandglitter.com/main Becky Striepe

    I am loving all of the digging that you’re doing here, and I think you make a good point. I’m a little torn now about whether to boycott these brands.

    For me it comes down to where my money goes. When you buy a bottle of Honest Tea, does any of that money go to support No on 37? If a penny goes to support that misleading, self-serving campaign, I can get my iced tea elsewhere, you know what I mean?

  • http://importantmedia.org/members/jkaplan/ Jennifer Kaplan

    I’m torn too! Since all corporate profits go into the same pot from which expenditures come I think the answer must be yes: the pennies make it into the campaign. That said, I hate penalizing good brands for not being perfect. I suppose you can’t really sell out and truly maintain your good brand status.

    • http://glueandglitter.com/main Becky Striepe

      Yeah, it’s a tricky one! I think you nailed it with the selling out part. If you’re owned by Gen. Mills or Kellogg’s, it’s not like you’re hurting for cash. Maybe hitting these companies in the wallet is the way to send a message that we are hip to their bad behavior and won’t take it anymore?

  • http://www.greenbusinessowner.com Scott Cooney

    100% agree with Becky there. If even a tenth of a penny from a jug of Silk went to support the No on 37 campaign, well…I’m done with Silk. There are plenty of good brands that make soy milk and don’t end up giving my money to bad things like the No on 37 campaign.

  • Pingback: Will Consumers Punish Prop 37's Antagonists with Boycotts?

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