At Adweek DC, Seth Goldman of Honest Tea discussed how to build a brand. (Jeffrey MacMillan/For The Washington Post)

Honest Tea’s Seth Goldman and Sweetgreen’s Nicolas Jammet, two darlings of Washington’s environmentally minded business set, interviewed each other at last week’s Ad Week DC conference for a freewheeling chat about where they get ideas and their philosophies on growth. Here are some highlights:


When first coming up with the company name, he and partner Barry Nalebuff thought “tea” was the most important part of their name. “But it turns out the word ‘honest’ was much bigger and that’s really what we’ve built on.’ ”

The company applied for two trademarks: Honest Tea and Honestea. “We heard from Nestea’s trademark lawyer who said, ‘You’re trying to market a product called Ho Nestea.’ We said, ‘Well I don’t think that’s the idea, but now that you say it, you’re right, so we’re going to withdraw that application if you let us keep the name Honest Tea.’ ”

He wants to make Honest Tea the next billion-dollar brand. “We’re at about $170 million in retail so we have a long way to go. In order to do that, we need to have our drinks sold wherever beverages are sold. We need to be in convenience stores, in major national restaurants. We’re doing very well in the natural foods channel, but we also need to get to a broader penetration and get more mainstream. We don’t do that by changing the product, we probably have to change the positioning. We have to make it more accessible.”

Honest Tea didn’t make all its teas fair trade until it was bought by Coca Cola, and he is constantly looking for ways to improve, regardless of corporate ownership. “We say we’re ‘mission-driven’ as opposed to ‘socially responsible’ because in my view ‘socially responsible’ suggests you’ve arrived, that you are socially responsible. I don’t buy that. I think if you call yourself socially responsible, you’re not trying hard enough. We always want to make sure we’re challenging ourselves.”

At Adweek DC, Nicolas Jammet of Sweetgreen discussed how to build a brand. (Jeffrey MacMillan/For The Washington Post)

He got the idea for the new Honest Kids Drink Pouch from his son. “I’m the lunchmaker in my house. I was making lunch for my middle son one day and he said, ‘I know you sell healthy drinks to grown-ups but you’re putting sugar into my lunchbox.’ I had a Capri Sun, I looked at it and it had 100 calories a pouch, that’s more sugar per ounce than a can of soda. That led to the launch of Honest Kids, which is 40 calories a pouch.”


He had no qualms about firing someone for the first time. “When we opened our first Georgetown store, we hired some students. It was the first day of classes and every single one of them was a no-show because they were working out their schedules. We had a line out the door. I remember myself and one of my partners were at the store by ourselves working, making salads, ringing them up. In the middle of this, a reporter from The Washington Post leans over and says, ‘I’m from The Washington Post, I'm reviewing you right now.’ At the end of the shift, we fired everyone and didn’t feel bad about it.”

The retail concept he looks up to most is Lululemon. “If you ask me what Lululemon sells, I wouldn’t say they sell yoga pants. They sell a lifestyle. If you go there, an employee will spend 30 minutes with you trying to help you set your goals and how you should be working out before you even buy a pair of yoga pants. I think that’s incredible. They’ve done an incredible job building a culture of people who live and breathe this lifestyle. We want to open all our stores next to a Lululemon.”

They are learning from past real estate decisions. “Looking at a store we just opened in College Park, we opened on the wrong side of the university. . .We learned to be smarter about our real estate selection to see where our community is and where the traffic is. Our best stores are the ones that have multiple sources of traffic. In Bethesda, for example, we have high school kids, corporate workers, small businesses, families.”