Innocent founders fruity £100m pay day as Coke takes control

The three founders of the Innocent smoothie brand have sold the majority of their remaining shares to Coca Cola for an estimated £100m. That's a lot of pineapple, however you slice it.

by Andrew Saunders
Last Updated: 14 Mar 2016
Coke took its first stake in the business, a relatively modest 18%, back in 2009, before upping that to around 58% in 2010. This latest deal values the business at £320m and will leave Coca-Cola effectively in sole control with over 90% of the equity, and although founder Richard Reed, Adam Balon and Jon Wright will retain some shares they are also stepping down from the day-to-day running of the firm.
 
It’s a sweet deal for Cambridge graduates Richard Reed, Adam Balon and Jon Wright, the three friends who came up with the idea for Innocent 15 yrs ago. Their first smoothies were knocked up in a domestic blender on a stall at a weekend Jazz festival, with two bins for empties in front marked ‘yes’ and ‘no’, and a sign above the lot asking punters ‘Should we quit our jobs and start making these smoothies?’ The ‘yes’ bin won the day and the rest, as they say, is history. 
 
Reed described the relationship with Coke as ‘beautiful’ and said ‘Our aim was to make Innocent a global brand and take its ethical values to the world's consumers. We decided that we would be able to do a better job of that with Coke.’
 
The trio took some stick when Coke first came aboard - its brand values hardly seem at one with the healthy, hipsterish image cultivated by Innocent. But they have always insisted that Coke is more like a supportive elder brother, and the multinational’s clout has certainly helped Innocent recover from the dark days of 2008 when it has to lay off 10% of its workforce after a big drop in sales coupled with a spike in the price of fruit to deal a major blow to the firm. It now sells in 15 countries and last year it made a £20m profit after four years of losses.  
 
Innocent will, say the founders, continue to be run by its own management team (with Coke’s head of northern Europe, James Quincy, on the board as before) from its existing West London HQ at Fruit Towers. Its new owner is also said to be committed to continuing to donate some 10% of annual profits to charity, so little is likely to change as far as punters are concerned. 
 
But what will the Innocent three - all of them barely into their 40s - do next? Besides saying that he’s going to go on holiday and help his two sisters buy houses, Reed isn’t giving much away, but here at MT we reckon they will all be back on the business scene with a vengeance before too long. ‘We've worked hard for 15 years this is one of the benefits of it, he said. "We're not just going to take the money and go sit on the beach, although there's definitely enough to do that.’ 
 
It’s a tale of entrepreneurial virtue rewarded and just the sort of news we need to hear more of as the UK economy struggles to grow its way out of trouble. More juice please!

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