From its humble beginnings as a stall at a small music festival in 1998, Innocent has grown into an international brand with a turnover of £76 million.
Developing and sustaining a creative culture among its entire workforce has enabled Innocent Drinks to remain true to its core brand values throughout an extended period of growth and expansion.
Innocent Drinks founders, L-R: Adam Balon, Jon Wright and Richard Reed
In 1998, three men decided to try out a new business venture by selling pure fruit smoothies at a small music festival. They provided two dustbins for customers to deposit their empty cups, one labelled ‘yes’ the other ‘no’. The question on a sign above the bins read ‘should we give up our jobs to make these smoothies?’. By the end of the day, the ‘yes’ bin was overflowing, and Innocent Drinks became a reality.
Starting a business
Innocent was the brainchild of professionals Richard Reed, Jon Wright and Adam Balon, who identified a need among fellow workers for an easy way to make each day a bit healthier.
Innocent was formed with the very simple idea that every product contains 100 per cent pure, fresh ingredients and no fruit concentrates.
But this simplicity belies a more fully formed business strategy, best described in the founders’ profile documents: ‘That with a non-corporate attitude, a sincere commitment to the cause and creative thinking, it is possible to create a fast growing company that acts responsibly.’
Following an initial investment in £500 worth of fruit for their first stall, the trio drew on help from friends, family and colleagues to secure a further £250,000 from a venture capitalist. With limited resources Innocent couldn’t afford to hire external agencies to design and develop the company’s look and feel, employing instead one of their friends, Dan Germain, as Head of Creative. ‘We didn’t have more design knowledge than any group of city dwellers exposed to design in their everyday lives,’ he says. ‘Our user testing was done on people we knew and we’d email our friends with packaging designs.’
Instinct played a big part in the development of the Innocent logo and packaging. ‘We tried to make everything say instantly that the product is fun and good for you,’ explains Germain. ‘We didn’t have any sophisticated marketing plan, we just wanted to like the way it looked and tasted and for it to stand out on café shelves.’ After consultation with Innocent’s core target market – young, urban professionals (i.e., the group’s friends) – the apple with halo logo was chosen as the one that most clearly illustrated Innocent’s core values.
From the outset, Innocent has delighted its customers with its straightforward, almost irreverent approach to business, using a simple, down-to-earth communications technique that mirrors the no-nonsense honesty of the Innocent brand and its products.
Unusually, this approach is also used with retailers, who receive regular communications from Innocent, such as a newsletter that combines product information with fun stories. In this way, Innocent has developed a huge network of customers and partners who Germain describes as ‘friends’ (customers being ‘simply friends who we haven’t met yet’).
Crucial to the company’s success to date has been its employment strategy, striving to employ experts in every relevant field from ethical procurement to web design. Last year, Innocent was named as top employer by the Guardian newspaper. In the same year, the company recorded a turnover of £38 million – proof, if proof were necessary, that a commitment to company culture and wholesome brand values really can lead to outstanding commercial success.
‘If you have truly inspiring and motivated people around you, you can do anything,’ says Germain. ‘We have an ambition to be Europe’s most talent-rich company, and as long as we keep trying to achieve that, we’ll be ok.’
Innocent recent awards
- Business XL10 – Company of the Year
- E&Y Young Entrepreneur of the Year
- National Business Awards – Small/Medium Business of the Year
- Growing Business Awards – Most Promising New Company
- Orange Small Business of the Year
- Orange Marketing Campaign of the Year
- Orange Innovative Company of the Year
- Best Investors in People – National Business Awards
- Innovative Company of the Year – Growing Business Awards