From Chicken Soup for the Entrepreneur's Soul

Reasoning for the Seasonings

A man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?

Robert Browning

I’ve always felt that my soul has been carved out of the snow and rock of the Colorado mountains. Nature is my passion—it’s a part of me, and always has been, even when the nature I loved so much had a propensity to take my breath away, literally.

I grew up in the beautiful Colorado Rockies. As a child, I suffered from severe asthma and was always on the sickly side. One day, while gasping for a breath during a particularly cruel attack, I made a lifelong commitment to fight my asthma and to get healthy. There were too many things on this earth I wanted to do, and one of those included climbing to the top of the Rockies’ 14,000-foot majestic peaks.

Because I had such a love for the outdoors, on days when my asthma was under control, I would hike the mountains, enjoying the flowers and wild berries. During my childhood years, I made money by picking wild berries for ladies making jelly. Then in the late 1960s, the decade of free thinking and healthier choices, I became a health food fanatic on a mission. Determined to significantly change people’s eating and drinking habits, I felt that if I could create the best-tasting tea in the world that was also super-healthful, I could bring better health to millions of people.

By the grace of God and lucky timing, I started Celestial Seasonings at the birth of the modern natural foods movement. Before 1970, natural food stores did not exist. If people watched their diets at all, the extent of their healthy intentions was purchasing vitamins. In the early 1970s, however, millions of young people demanded healthful, natural and unpolluted food. Contrarily, the scientific trend in North American food corporations’ product offerings reflected the belief that you could have better health through the standardization of test-tube food. That set the stage for the birth of an alternative “back to the earth” food revolution by America’s youth.

In the fall of 1971, I left Boulder on my first real sales trip to the East Coast. I was twenty-one, idealistic, enthusiastic, broke and ready to change the world by becoming a part of the natural foods movement. I went peddling my first branded tea—“Mo’s 24 Herb Tea”—and had a Tupperware container of Red Zinger tea to show people. One of the turning points in the history of Celestial occurred on that trip. While in Connecticut, I met a CEO of one of the largest food corporations in the world. We had a heated debate about natural foods fresh from the farm versus chemically produced, scientifically engineered food. This gentleman actually believed that people would be better off if all foods were sanitized, standardized and produced in stainless-steel vats rather than raised on farms. I, on the other hand, touted the health benefits of my teas, natural foods, exercise and overall good living.

After nearly an hour of what became a very tense conversation, the CEO said, “Why don’t you give up your silly natural food tea company and get a real job? Come work for me.” I left that discussion on fire, ready to take on the big boys. I just knew in my heart that the natural foods movement would rise up and provide healthy products, no matter how difficult the challenge would become. And difficult was the one word that described many years of poverty and growth experienced by Celestial Seasonings.

The initial capital investment for Celestial was $500, provided by my early partner John Hay. From there, finding the money to grow became our greatest challenge over our first ten years of existence. During the lean years when we barely had enough cash to make payroll, I would think of that CEO telling me to give up this silly company and get a real job. He was just the inspiration I needed to stay the course. I was determined to make a difference.

Many people have asked if I’m surprised how large Celestial Seasonings eventually became. My answer surprises most folks. From day one I thought Celestial would reach at least $100 million in sales within ten years. What shocked me was how hard it was to get there—it took thirty years to hit that number.

As I look back at our success, what I see is passion, dedication, hard work and the joy of achievement that permeated our entire company. I’ve since retired, but about once a month, somebody comes up to me and says, “I know one of your first partners.” I respond by asking who they are referring to, and they proceed to give me a name of someone I may or may not remember. The person they were talking about might have been working on a tea bag production line or packing trucks in the warehouse, but that individual was so involved that he felt he had been a partner. I love those stories.

Truth is, Celestial has been about the thousands of people on a mission to make a difference. Celestial Seasonings was not about Mo Siegel any more than the river is about the riverbank.

Mo Siegel

EPILOGUE: Mo Siegel did what he set out to do—create a healthful, natural tea for the masses. Over thirty years later, Celestial Seasonings continues to be America’s number-one specialty tea company and one of the most popular tea companies in the world.

Siegel retired from the company in 2002, setting his sites on conquering a life aspiration—climbing the fifty-five mountains in Colorado that are over 14,000 feet high. In the summer of 2005, he completed all of these very complicated, exhilarating and daring mountain climbs with just one close call, but other than that, hardly a scratch!

This bold mountain climber now spends his time investing money, sitting on the board of directors of five for-profit companies and two nonprofit organizations, raising the last of his two teenagers (he has five children), loving his wife, Jennifer, being “Grandpa” to four grandchildren, doing nonprofit work, hiking with his dogs, skiing, traveling, reading and spending time with friends.

Siegel is also an author, having penned with Nancy Burke Herbs for Health and Happiness: All You Need to Know (Time-Life, 2000). He also authored, along with his wife, Jennifer, (who, Siegel admits, did most of the work), the title Celestial Seasonings: Cooking with Tea (Park Lane Press, 1996).

To learn more about Mo Siegel and Celestial Seasonings, please visit

Dahlynn McKowen

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