Tea Change: Howell Departs as Rooibee CEO, Meissner Joins Board

Heather Howell, who joined Roobiee Red Tea as its chief executive officer in 2010, has left the company to become the director of innovation for spirits giant Brown-Forman. Meanwhile, longtime beverage veteran Bill Meissner, most recently the president and CEO capsule-based coffee company Tazza Pronto, has joined Rooibee’s board of directors,

Heather Howell

Heather Howell

News of Howell’s departure was first reported by Louisville Business First, which in a May 12 article wrote that Howell will remain a shareholder of Rooibee. In her new role, Howell will be responsible for brand and new product development at Brown-Forman, which, like Rooibee, is based in Louisville, Ky. Calling the move “a no-brainer,” Howell also told Louisville Business First that “the sign of a great leader is to know when to step off.”

Howell, who often referred to herself as Rooibee’s “Chief Tea Officer,” was the second employee at the company (founder Jeff Stum being the first) and presided over substantial sales and distribution growth of the brand, which includes original and kids’ lines of rooibos-based organic tea drinks. On Howell’s LinkedIn page, a brief description of her work notes that sales of Rooibee products rose by 1,062 percent during her five-year tenure. According to a recent filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Rooibee reported company revenue at or under $1 million.

While the company has yet to announce a new CEO, it’s been busy expanding its board of directors, including two from the company’s backyard in Louisville. Along with Meissner, Rooibee former Papa John’s executive Chuck Schnatter and Radicle Capital founder Benton Keith have joined Rooibee’s board. Keith is also an investor in the company.

William Meissner

William Meissner

Meissner gained a board seat at Rooibee following the sale of Distant Lands Coffee to global tea giant Ito En. Distant Lands had been the holding company for Tazza Pronto, which Meissner led from October, 2012 to March, 2015. Prior to his role at Tazza, Meissner had been the president and CEO of Jones Soda Co., resigning from the company in June, 2012. Meissner also held leadership roles with Talking Rain Beverage Co. and Fuze Beverage.

Having also made major moves in its branding and equity financing, 2015 has been a year of transition for Rooibee. The company unveiled a major packaging revamp at the 2015 Natural Products Expo West and recently completed a $2 million investment round with the final $500,000 secured via equity crowdfunding site CircleUp.