Food & Drink

5 Business Lessons that made the right blend for Innocent

Innocent Drinks has grown from having a £400,000 turnover to £165 million in just 12 years.

Co-founders Richard Reed, Adam Balon and Jon Wright began the business by spending £500 on fruit, making smoothies, and setting up a stall at a London music festival. In answer to the question ‘do you think we should give up our jobs to make these smoothies?’ customers replied with a resounding ‘yes’, so that’s just what they did.

The company rapidly became the market leader for smoothies, aided by £250,000 of angel investment from US financier Marcus Pinto. By 2010, Innocent had a 77% share of the £150 million UK market. It has also launched ‘veg pots’, and a not-from-concentrate juice range, alongside smoothies and juices for children.

The journey hasn’t always been easy. Innocent was badly hit by the recession and in 2008 was forced to make 10% of its employees redundant. In 2009, it received a minority investment from Coca-Cola, expanding to a majority shareholder stake in 2010. “Although they own a share of 58%,” says Richard Reed, “we remain a standalone company and our mission and values are unchanged.”

Innocent has certainly retained its forward-thinking approach to its products, its people, and its customers. Richard adds: “If you want to win in business, your product has to be better than the competition in a way that is meaningful to your consumers. We create products with love, rather than processing the nutrition and life out of them.”

The Innocent team is very important to the whole picture, he adds. “We have a fantastic supply chain and a valued relationship with manufacturing partners, retailers and growers.

“We have always been entirely focused on the people side of the business. All our employees receive equity in the company, and get free breakfasts, scholarships and a share of our profits.”

5 business lessons

  1. Focus on the people side of the business – whether this is your staff or your customers.
  2. Don’t compromise your values – success and failure can test your mettle in terms of sticking to what you wanted to achieve when you first formed a business.
  3. Leave things better than you find them – this is reflected in everything we do, from the use of green electricity, to sourcing fruit from ethically operated farms.
  4. Be open-minded – people worried that the essence of Innocent would be lost after Coca-Cola invested in us. That’s not happened.
  5. Be yourself – you don’t have to wear a suit and sit behind a desk to demonstrate commitment to what you do.

To find out more about Inncocent visit their website at: www.innocentdrinks.co.uk

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John Carroll - Helping businesses achieve International success. Head of Product Management & International Business, Santander UK