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[Review] An Innocent Story


Written by writer and brand consultant John Simmons, “Innocent” narrates the brand story of how Cambridge graduates Jon Wright, Adam Balon and Richard Reed built a “tasty little juice company” with a unique culture founded on strong values.  Embodying the informal, casual wit of the company, the founding of Innocent is summarized on their website in the form of a charming story as follows:

“We started innocent in 1999 after selling our smoothies at a music festival. We put up a big sign asking people if they thought we should give up our jobs to make smoothies, and put a bin saying ‘Yes’ and a bin saying ‘No” in front of the stall. Then we got people to vote with their empties. At the end of the weekend, the ‘Yes’ bin was full, so we resigned from our jobs the next day and got cracking.”

Known for their “100% pure fruit” smoothies, juices and more recently vegetable pots, Innocent grew rapidly from a humble annual turnover of £400,000 in 1999 to become Europe’s leading natural smoothie company in 2010 with annual sales of £130 million.  The firm was recently acquired by global beverage giant Coca-Cola who owned a 58% share of the company while allowing the three founding partners to retain full control.

With quirky features such as a “banana” phone for customer complaints/queries, cute job titles such as “Chief Squeeze” and “Juice Press”, wickedly witty bottle labels, and a “grass” covered delivery van, Innocent isn’t any ordinary company.  In fact, the company was awarded the “Top Employer of the Year” in 2005 – not bad for a small niche business dealing in natural beverages.

An Innocent Grass Van (source of image)

According to Simmons, Innocent’s success is embodied in the following elegantly and simply written “Innocent” company values, which I reproduce below as follows:

Be Natural – Keep it human, put people first.  Make 100% natural, delicious, healthy stuff, 100% of the time. Treat others, especially our drinkers, as we want to be treated.

Be Entrepreneurial – Chase opportunities and be responsive. Be creative and challenge the status quo. Do it better than anyone else, and have fun doing it.

Be Generous – When offering praise to others. With our time when coaching others. With rewards when people deliver. With charitable support.

Be Commercial – Create growth and profit for us and our customers. Be tough, but fair. Think clearly, act decisively, and keep the main thing, the main thing.

Be Responsible – Be true to our principles, and do what we believe is right. To be conscious of the consequences of our actions in both the short and long term. To leave things a little better than we find them, and to encourage others to join us too.

From the organization of mass appeal events like “Fruitstock” and Village Fetes, scheduling of staff retreats at skiing resorts, to generous donation of 10% of profits to worthwhile causes, everything about Innocent seemed to be “100% healthy goodness”.  The sourcing of the best ingredients (e.g. Indian Alphonso mangoes for its mango and passionfruit smoothie), use of 50% to 100% recycled plastic bottles, and establishment of the Innocent Foundation (for charitable giving) further establishes Innocent as an icon for ethical and sustainable business.

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Perhaps the most outstanding aspect of Innocent is the use of wit and humor in advertising. Wielding a wicked copywriter’s pen and charming design, most aspects of its product design, packaging, posters, advertisements and banners are done in-house. An example of its zany bottle label copy is highlighted below:

“We found all of these after our Fruitstock Festival in August – a set of house keys, a pair of reading specs, a few pairs of sunglasses and a pretty dress.  If any of them belong to you, please ring the banana phone on 020 8600 3939 as soon as possible, as all of it technically becomes ours in 3 months’ time and Jon is really looking forward to getting his hands on the dress.”

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Overall, “Innocent” is a fascinating story of a great “pure” brand that sticks to its guns despite facing challenges in the hyper-competitive beverage market. By challenging conventional wisdom, “Innocent” shows that companies can build great brands by adhering firmly to what they believe in while ensuring that the numbers match – what the author calls “Hippies with calculators”.