There's a Lesson in the Death of Honest Tea

Coca-Cola announced it's phasing out the brand it acquired a decade ago
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 4, 2022 11:30 AM CDT
There's a Lesson in the Death of Honest Tea
   (Getty Images / memoriesarecaptured)

Coca-Cola has sounded the death knell for Honest Tea, the brand it acquired in 2011: By the end of the year all that will remain is its Honest Kids juice-box spinoff. While some say it's the natural outcome—corporate behemoth buys mission-driven brand, ends up killing it—Rob Walker zooms out to look at what it means for mission-driven brands in general. In a piece for Fast Company, he points out that there is some precedent for these kinds of acquisitions making it (see: Unilever's hands-off approach to Ben & Jerry's). In Walker's view, what the ice cream has going for it is, well, a lot of things in addition to its politics: It's "slightly fancy, often cheeky, and very tasty. ... Honest Tea’s identity, in contrast, seemed less flexible or expansive."

That worked "when the consumer mood was moving in its direction," Walker continues. But over the years, bottled tea (this one boasting organic ingredients and Fair Trade Certified partners) has moved from the go-to beverage for health-minded consumers looking for a lower-sugar option to just another player in a crowded space that includes everything from kombucha to cold brew to vitamin-boosted water. "A sincere mission can help a brand break through to a solid, loyal audience of consumers," writes Walker. "But put that mission-centric brand in the middle of a mass-oriented owner’s sprawling portfolio, and that same identity can become a constraint." The brand "truly stood for something. And that, in the end, was its downfall." (Read the full piece here.)

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