Seth Goldman, Honest Tea Creator, Talks Social Justice and Healthy Food at Presidential Dialogue
As part of the College’s 2022-2023 Presidential Dialogue Series, Reimagined Community: Successful Agents of Change, Seth Goldman, a local, mission-driven entrepreneur, sat down with Montgomery College President Jermaine F. Williams in March to discuss democratizing organic food and his passion for merging social justice with healthy, profitable products.
Goldman is the co-founder and chief change agent of Eat the Change, which produces organic plant-based snacks. He is also the co-founder of PLNT Burger, a chain of 13 East Coast restaurants featuring plant-based burgers. He is also chair of the board of Beyond Meat.
He explained what he means by “democratization of organic food” to the audience of MC students and faculty. “The way most of our food system works in the United States is that people who are wealthy… have lots of access to healthy food,” he said. “I certainly don’t want them to be the only people to have access to healthy food.” Goldman said he wants to make Eat the Change products available to everybody, by offering lower prices and establishing wide distribution, and by providing information about what makes food healthier.
Goldman is best known for creating Honest Tea, which he sold to Coca Cola in 2011 for $43 million. After the pandemic, Coca Cola stopped production of Honest Tea in May of 2022, citing supply chain issues. “Losing Honest Tea was a gut punch,” Goldman said. “That week, I was flooded with outreach, not just from former employees, but suppliers, people who liked working with us before. There are also tons of Honest Tea investors who said, ‘Hey, we'd love to go around again with you.’ And we’ve kind of brought the band back together.” Just 90 days later, Goldman launched his latest tea line, named Just Ice Tea, a combination of the words justice and tea.
When asked about his mission-driven values, Goldman said, “I’m not going to do something I don’t believe in,” he said. “I don't want to sell anything that's not healthy for anybody else. And it’s got to be something I can believe makes sense environmentally. I have to look at myself—and my wife—in the eye.”
Goldman’s wife, Julie Farkas, is a business partner who shares his commitment to sustainability and social justice. “The joy of my life is to have someone who is a key partner,” Goldman said. He credits Farkas with discovering Beyond Meat, a Los Angeles–based producer of plant-based meat substitutes. After reading an article about Beyond Meat, she said to Goldman, “You need to help these people find a way to scale that business.” After Goldman reached out to the company, the relationship was formed. He said Beyond Meat now partners with McDonalds in Europe to sell a McPlant burger and a line of plant-based “chicken” nuggets.
Goldman and Farkas launched Eat the Change (ETC) Impact, a grant program promoting and expanding access to climate-friendly foods in the Unites States. ETC Impact is donating $1.25M over three years to nonprofit organizations that educate and inspire consumers to make climate-conscious choices with their diet.
“The more you can encourage and nudge people toward healthier foods, the better, for them—and, over the long term—the better for your business,” Goldman said.
Dr. Williams plans to host more conversations with thought leaders in business, politics, education, and journalism, which will explore the values and structures essential to transform communities and advance a shared sense of the public good. For more information, visit montgomerycollege.edu/events/presidential-dialogues.