Monday, 9 May 2011

Innocent: brand of inspiration for aspiring entrepreneurs and the few corporate idealists...

I recently read the company history and profile of "Innocent", the makers of "innocent fruit drinks" in Europe, and was utterly impressed and enthused by the success story of the brand and the three young Cambridge graduates turned entrepreneurs. John Simmon, the writer of the book, very candidly takes us through the mermerising story of three college friends, 3-4 years into the corporate world, wondering if all their hard work and intellect was actually being consumed in the right place.

A very idealistic approach, a solid business plan, and simple marketing research techniques coupled with intuition and gut lead the young men to become owners of the now fastest growing beverage brand in UK, Innocent. However it was not as simple as it seems. There were sleepless nights spent in figuring out ways to raise capital for the business, ways to merchandise it, and ways to produce it. But the most difficult bit of it all was : Innocent fruit drinks had to be 100% natural, without additives, preservatives or any artificial flavours and colours. Raw material had to be sourced from the best farms and there was this undying spirit of 'ethics' behind the idea of making it '100% natural'. It was the time when the western society was waking up to the horrors of obesity and unhealthy junk food regimes that had spread like cancer in their daily routines.
A point worth mentioning is that these young men were employed at one of the best multinationals at the time this idea arose to their unsatisfied hearts and minds - and they sacrificed their well paying stable corporate jobs and lifestyle to plunge in the risk of starting a 'small, innocent, simple' juice company that offered fresh fruit smoothies to the niche of the society that wanted a healthy substitute for coke, pepsi, artificially flavoured drinks and remove a little bit of guilt from their other wise unhealthy daily routines.

Why this story and company inspired me is because having worked in the consumer goods industry for some time I realised how marketing has taken the focus away from the actual product - thus sacrificing the quality of whats inside the bottle and continuously glorifying whats outside the bottle and on the TV screens. Innocent as a brand believed strongly in investing in the product as the first priority - advertising was their last concern. They felt that if their product was great - it would SELL and they were right (business doubled almost every year since they first began and they were the pioneers of the new smoothie segment in the beverage market in UK). Innocent is a story that proves that you need not be ruthless or sacrifice ethics in order to be commercial or to become a successful business.

Over the years Innocent also became one of the most creative brands when it comes to consumer marketing. Once the product had established its quality and the ROI started to flow in, the creative minds of the entrepreneurs started working towards what they called the 'smaller things' i.e. the marketing. They first began with using the space on the packaging for their marketing with the help of small 'innocent stories' and 'witty comments' that would add a smile or interesting moment to your day. I'm attaching a few glimpses of their advertising here for your amusement. 

What innocent is as a brand, is what innocent is as a company, and what its people are as the employees of the company - through and through consistent and honest to the single minded stance of the brand "100% natural" and true to its core values of "doing whats right" even if it means doing it more expensive and selling it at a higher price, because those who understand the value, will willingly pay the higher price.

I was so inspired to read the book and so surprised that a company as ethical and solid towards its commitment could exist that I called up the company's 'Banana Line' , a customer feedback number that they claim is picked up within 3-4 bells and you can simply chat with them about the product, their company or anything you feel like and the employee at the other end will sound like a typical 'innocent' guy or girl who would be friendly to you , tell you a joke and talk to you without showing you any hurry to get back to their busy business. So I thought calling up the helpline will allow me to really check the authenticity of what I read in the book - and to my surprise I had a typical 'Banana Line' experience with a guy called 'George' who was from the operations department but sounded like he owned the company when I asked him a few questions about their current business and futures plans. It was then that I became a true fan of 'innocent' - the company that not only claimed but actually acted on the values and ethics listed on their Corporate Policy Document. 

I recommend this book to all marketing and brand experts and aspiring entrepreneurs. 


  1. Sounds like a very interesting read. Haha can't believe you actually called them up..that's great! :D

    For me the coolest thing about them has been their clever and witty marketing. I love reading the bottle covers. Also recently they've been supporting various charities.

    However, I'd gotten a bit disappointed when I'd found out last year that they sold out to Coca Cola...who they claim has been a "hands-off investor" and the 3 founders continue to work for the brand. Here's what they have to say about it:

  2. Thanks for sharing the link Tamreez - i did hear about the take over and I'm so relieved that the company continues to be run by its original founders and in the same spirit that makes 'innocent' innocent :)