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Could Honest Tea be the next Jelly Belly?

February 2, 2009

honestteaWhen Ronald Reagan, an avid lover of jelly beans, was sworn in as president of the United States in 1981, over three tons of Jelly Belly candies were consumed during the festivities. Likewise in 2009, after Barack Obama assumed the position, his preferred bottled beverage, Honest Tea, seems to be getting a boost.

The 44th president is an open fan of Honest Teas, and even stocked his favorite flavors — Green Dragon Tea and Black Forest Berry — in the White House refrigerator, said the company’s co-founder and CEO Seth Goldman.

Goldman told Reuters that the small 11-year-old company is thrilled to have an unpaid, authentic spokesman in Barack Obama, but will not rest on its laurels.

“We’re excited that Barack Obama continues to be a consumer of Honest Tea, but our marketing doesn’t hinge on that,” Goldman said in an interview, adding that the publicity is welcome, but may not have a huge impact on sales.

“At this point, it doesn’t feel like it hurts us,” Goldman said. 

Honest Tea, which is 40-percent owned by Coca-Cola Co, did $38 million in sales last year, and expects that to more than double this year to $80 million.

Despite its size, Goldman was among the business leaders Obama invited to the White House last week to discuss his proposed fiscal stimulus. Other guests included Google CEO Eric Schmidt and IBM CEO Sam Palmisano.

Much of the tiny brand’s sales come from the East Coast and the mid-Atlantic region, where it got a boost as people flocked to Washington D.C. last month for the inauguration, Goldman said. The limited distribution led some on the Obama campaign team to call the company when Obama was on the road, heading into rural areas, to find out where they could purchase the drink.  

Goldman said the company would never want to exploit Obama as a fan, but there may be lessons to be learned from Jelly Belly, whose fruity candies were served in the Oval Office and on Air Force One during the Reagan administration. According to the company’s website, a holder was even designed for the plane so a jar of beans would not spill during turbulence.

And let’s not forget about the portrait of Reagan made from 10,000 Jelly Belly beans that hangs in the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California.

(Photo: Honest Tea)

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