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Tough to Quench Obama's Thirst For Honest Tea

Monday, June 2, 2008

As Barack Obama continued facing questions last week about when he could declare himself the Democratic presidential nominee, the Illinois senator also confronted two important disclosures about his personal life.

For one, he still hasn't kicked his nicotine habit, according to a note from his doctor. Also, according to the New York Times, he's hooked on Honest Tea.

Company co-founder Seth Goldman, who did not request anonymity to speak because it is good for business, said the company became aware of the candidate's tastes when Obama's staff called to locate some drinks shortly after he came to Washington as a senator.

"He's liked our product for quite a while," Goldman said.

Obama used to like Community Green Tea, then moved on to Green Dragon Tea.

The revelation about Honest Tea, a Bethesda organic beverage maker, doesn't threaten to derail Obama's presidential hopes, but it does illustrate the lengths a presidential candidate's staff will go to act as enablers. The matter is particularly noteworthy because it was not always easy to get organic products where Obama campaigned -- in, say, Jackson, Miss.

Once Obama hit the campaign trail full time, getting Honest Tea into his hands became more difficult. The matter escalated in January, when after the South Carolina primary an Obama aide, who called after the candidate's staff had just driven two hours to procure the goods for her boss, contacted Honest Tea spokesman Dale Crowell.

The aide wanted to know whether the company would help her more easily find Honest Tea in far-flung places. Also, did Honest Tea have any drinks without caffeine? The senator wanted to stay healthy on the road.

Crowell suggested Black Forest Berry. A few days later, the Obama aide e-mailed Crowell: "We tried this last night. He liked it."

It's been all Black Forest Berry since then. Crowell has directed campaign officials to natural food stores in Utah, Idaho, Wisconsin, Indiana, Pennsylvania and places in between.

After the campaign visited Pittsburgh, Crowell said the aide informed him that the staff had just cleaned out the Whole Foods there.

Goldman said the difficulty Obama's campaign has had tracking down his products has helped reassure him that selling 40 percent of the company to Coca-Cola earlier this year was the right move. Coke's distribution network will soon start carrying Honest Tea products, significantly widening their reach into mainstream stores.

"Hopefully the campaign won't have this problem in the future," Goldman said.

-- Michael S. Rosenwald

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