The unincorporated area of Maryland known as Bethesda is not part of Washington, but it is a creature of Washington, as columnist George Will recently noted, filled with lawyers, government employees, lobbyists, NIH scientists, journalists, pundits and political operatives. Among these creatures of government, a rare leaf of commerce has brewed into a fast-growing company called Honest Tea. Here was hope: For if the seeds of enterprise could take root in Bethesda, they could take root anywhere.
A company that grew on the banks of the Potomac should know more than most about sharing space with government. So an op-ed in today's Wall Street Journal by Honest Tea co-founder Seth Goldman deserves attention. Goldman describes the threat to his business from New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's arbitrary restrictions on drink sizes. Here is an excerpt:
Under the proposed changes to Article 81 of the NYC Health Code, food-service establishments would not be able to sell packages larger than 16 ounces for drinks that have more than 25 calories per eight-ounce serving. Honest Tea's top-selling item is our organic Honey Green Tea, which has 35 calories per eight-ounce serving and is in a 16.9 oz. bottle. We label 70 calories on the front of the package so consumers know what's in the full bottle.
We initially went with 16.9 oz. (which is 500 milliliters) because it is a standard size that our bottle supplier had in stock at the time. We subsequently invested several hundred thousand dollars for 16.9 oz. bottle molds. Is 16.9 ounces the perfect size? Who knows? As a beverage marketer, we willingly submit to the unforgiving judgment of the market. What we did not anticipate was an arbitrary decision to constrain consumer choice.
One response we considered was putting 0.9 ounce less liquid in our bottles, but that would create a separate set of complications. We fill our bottles to the brim—not just because we like to deliver an "Honest" value, but also to ensure quality since we do not use preservatives. Then there is the costly prospect of having to change all of our UPC codes (those complicated black bars found on every product on a grocery shelf) because we would be offering a different liquid volume—all for 0.9 ounces!
Read the rest of the op-ed for one of the better examples of how honest business owners pay the price for regulations. In the story of Honest Tea, there is truth.