Smoothie Operators: Innovation and Timing are Key to Innocent Success
How does a three-man start-up become a £132m powerhouse within a decade? Innovation, that’s how.
Innocent Drinks was launched in 1999 by three friends actively seeking to start their own company. A number of ideas were bandied about, and eventually Richard Reed, Adam Balon and Jon Wright opted to start a smoothie company. Was it because they were experts in fruit-based beverages? No, it’s because they saw a gap in the market.
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It’s probably one of the most recited entrepreneurial stories in the UK business world, certainly in recent times, but it is a nice story.
Once Upon a Time
Attending a music festival in London, the three amigos set up a smoothie stall and asked the crowd one simple question: if you like our drinks and think we should give up our day jobs, throw your empty cups in the ‘yes’ bin. If you think we’re wasting our time, chuck it in the ‘no’ bin.
By the end of the festival, the ‘yes’ bin was full and the rest, as they say, is history. Coca-Cola bought a £30m stake in the company in 2009, ten years after the smoothie company launched. This investment increased in 2010, and Coca-Cola now has a majority shareholding in Innocent Drinks.
As a brand, Innocent Drinks is worth a blog post in itself – in fact, that’s something we’ll get ‘round to soon.
As a success story, however, it’s worth considering how three friends pooled their collective resources to create a massive company with almost three quarters of the UK smoothie market drinking out of its, erm, hands.
Firstly, the truism. Innocent Drinks was incredibly innovative from the very beginning. Everything from the way it Crowdsourced its market research at a music festival, to the underlying ethical philosophy it has adhered to throughout.
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Innocent Drinks established the Innocent Foundation in 2004, a UK-registered charity that gives grants to NGOs and charities. A tenth of the company’s profits go to these good causes.
Its ethical, pure and ‘innocent’ ethos was called into question when it climbed into bed with Coca-Cola, one of the world’s biggest corporations and one that has had a questionable record when it comes to ethics.
Despite a number of ‘boycott Innocent’ campaigns permeating social network channels, the company has gone from strength to strength, now exporting across Europe.
Secondly, Innocent Drinks’ success owes a lot to timing. It wasn’t the first UK company to tap into the public’s thirst for freshly-squeezed fruit juice – PJ’s had been doing it since 1994. But it was one of the first – and by creating such a personable, fun company which was reflected across its packaging, website…all communications, it really entered into the public’s consciousness.
With many success stories, timing is everything, and if you’re not fast, you’re last. The Innocent Drinks story certainly shows that being early to latch onto a trend is hugely important. If you’re not first, it’s not a disaster.
You just have to ensure if you’re second or third on the scene, you bring something unique to the table, and there’s a lot to be said for ethics and clever marketing.