New Honest Tea Marketing Chief: “We’ve Bought Honest Kids For a While”

In announcing the hiring of Peter Kaye as its vice president of marketing Friday, the company brought on a veteran beverage marketing expert who has also worked on several major consumer packaged goods and media brands, as well.

But Kaye, who has run an independent shop for the past four years, worked at Coke early in his career as a director of marketing on brands like Coke and Diet Sprite, and also logged time at Diageo and Time Inc., makes it clear that he’s coming back to work for Honest Tea, and not for the soda giant. While he had never met Honest Tea co-founders Seth Goldman and Barry Nalebuff, Kaye, who graduated from Harvard Business School in 1994, when Goldman himself was finishing up his own MBA at Yale, said he had spent the past several years watching the field of socially conscious entrepreneurship with growing interest, and that he was very familiar with the company’s products and reputation.

“I’ve enjoyed working in the beverage business not just at Coke but also at Diageo, but this opportunity was compelling on a number of levels, particularly when you factor in that it’s such an exciting, mission-driven business,” Kaye said. “That opportunity makes it more than just a great product and brand that I’ve enjoyed for a number of years – we’ve bought Honest Kids for a while, for my family, in fact.”

Still, Kaye understands that with Honest at about $80 million in sales in 2010, there’s plenty of running room — and high expectations — that the brand will reach a new phase of growth.

“There’s an opportunity to take the brand to a whole [new[ level, particularly with Coke’s support,” he said.

Feeling good about Honest as a healthy, organic product, he said, is even enough to pry him out of a burgeoning Cobble Hill, Brooklyn neighborhood to go house-hunting in Bethesda, Md., where Honest is based. But even from Maryland, Kaye said, he won’t be afraid to exploit the resources available from the brand’s eventual owner. Coke is expected to finish the final purchase of Honest Tea later this month.

Kaye cites Coke’s extensive marketing and analytical resources as a tremendous asset to help take Honest into the mainstream while also deepening its appeal to its core  “for lack of a better word, LOHAS cosumers.”

“On a practical level, of course, the Coca-Cola system is impressive in terms of bottling and distribution capabilities,” Kaye said. “But I know their marketing capabilities, their insight capabilities, and for me it’s awesome to have access to that.”

Honest is still carrying strong expectations that it can go to that next level that Kaye discussed. While he hasn’t yet formulated concrete plans, he said, one thing that might be on the table is to continue flavor innovation while also adjusting packaging, calling multi-serve packaging “an area that is likely to evolve.”

As for taking the product into the mainstream, he said, “that’s the big opportunity.”