How Innocent bottled fame and fortune

The nation's favourite smoothie-maker, famed for its quirky attitude and Astroturf-covered vans, sold 24 smoothies on its first day. Now Innocent supplies two-thirds of the UK market. Here's how it all began.

by Andrew Saunders
Last Updated: 14 Mar 2016

Formative years

 

Innocent's juicy story is not your usual rags-to-riches spiel. Founders Richard Reed, Adam Balon and Jon Wright met as students at Cambridge and were on the corporate ladder when they decided to set up an ethical, healthy business of their own. They spent a week selling homemade smoothies at a jazz festival before quitting their jobs and starting to pulp pineapples, mangoes and bananas for a living.

A cheeky email asking mates: 'Does anyone know anyone rich?' netted £250,000 from US investor Maurice Pinto. Twenty-four smoothies were sold on their first day in 1999. Innocent now shifts a healthy couple of million a week, about two-thirds of the UK market.

Recent history

 

In 2008, crash-hit punters stopped buying Innocent's expensive juice and four years of losses followed. Last year, it finally returned to profit, making £20m on sales of £209m.

And the announcement of backing from Coca-Cola in 2009 whipped up a storm of protest from customers who expected Innocent always to Do the Right Thing, especially if that meant saying 'no' to the Real Thing.

But what started out as a £30m stake turned into a buyout when Coke took a 90% stake in Innocent in February, valuing it at £320m.

Who's the boss?

 

There isn't one. Or rather, there are three - Reed, Balon and Wright. Former ad exec Reed is the front man. Balon and Wright, both ex-management consultants, handle finance and operations.

Behind the breezy charm - they call their west London HQ Fruit Towers - and jokey job titles (Reed is 'cherry picker', Wright 'chief bottler'), is a set of astute and complementary business brains who work very hard at making it all seem effortless. All three will stay on as directors after the Coke sale, but retain only residual stakes.

The secret formula

 

Innocent's marketing looks artless but it is effective enough to make grown ad men cry. The brand's success is as much about innovation as it is about image: it put the squeeze on rivals by coming up with a product that was better - and higher margin - than anything else. The founders also possessed enough nous to shake hands with the devil - in the shape of the big four supermarkets that account for most of Innocent's sales - without losing any fingers.

Don't mention...

 

Selling out. The Innocent three always deny kowtowing to The Man. Reed said of Coke's original investment that of the 18 prospects they pitched to, Coke was the one that understood the brand best and asked least in return. But will it remain so hands-off now it owns the lot?

VITAL STATISTICS

Sales pounds: 209m

Net profit pounds: 20m

Employees: 250

All figures for 2012



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