The Innocent story starts in Cambridge, where three friends met whilst working towards their degrees. The recent graduates Richard Reed, Adam Balon and Jon Wright then moved to London where they started the process of coming up with a variety of smoothie recipes and buying £500 worth of fruit to get them started.
In the summer of 1998 the three friends travelled nervously tothe‘Jazz on the Green’ Festival in Parsons Green; a spot full of the kind of people that would drink their smoothies. It was here that they would receive public feedback on their recipes which would determine whether they would proceed with the huge but exciting task of giving up their day jobs to start a business, or whether they would dump the fruit and rush back to their careers in consulting and advertising. Originally the trio had designed a feedback form but traded it in for a less corporate approach.
The idea was simple and succinct: people would try their smoothie and dispose of the (hopefully) empty bottle in one of two bins; one labelled ‘YES’ and the other ‘NO’. Above their stall was the question ‘Do you think we should give up our jobs to make these smoothies?’ At the end of the weekend the ‘YES’ bin was full with only three bottles in the ‘NO’ bin, so the boys went home, flipped a coin for some last minute reassurance, and quit their jobs the next day to go to work on the building of what would become the UK and Europe’s favourite smoothie brand.
Next was the problem that all start-up businesses face; the issue of funding. The boys applied to, and got turned down by, 20 different banks. They pitched at an event for entrepreneurs only to find that nobody was interested in hearing any more about them. On paper the trio were a risky investment; they were friends, they had no experience in their field, they would be competing against massive companies, and they’d never set up a business. This realisation, however ‘soul destroying’#, did not deter the trio. They continued on their path to funding by emailing everyone they knew hoping to find somebody rich, until they got an email back from Maurice Pinto, who they’d heard sometimes made investments. Despite the fact that Pinto thought the idea was ‘dumb’, he agreed to invest £50,000 in the company, which then grew to £250,000 when the other investors he usually works with refused to invest.
The trio then found a manufacturing partner Mike Lord, who had been manufacturing orange juice. He said to the boys "I don't think it's going to work, but there's something in your eyes that reminds me of myself when I was your age, so I'll do it."
Advertising was the next step, and with no money to afford it, the trio had to come up with inspired (and cheap) ways to spread the Innocent name. After over-producing, they handed out their smoothies for free to around 50 different shops with the hope that they would call and order more; which they did. They also wrote little nonsensical messages on the products themselves about their natural origin; the idea behind their brand was ‘to make it easy for people to do themselves some good. And to make it taste nice too. We wanted people to think of innocent drinks as their one healthy habit; like going to the gym’#. They also left smoothies on every floor of a building packed full of journalists which again earned them a large amount of phone calls in return for their hard work.
Innocent Drinks continued to grow and grow, with their staff size growing from just three to two hundred and fifty between 1999 and 2010, with their market share growing from 0% to 77.5% within the same time period#. On April 6th 2009 Innocent Drinks announced its decision to sell a stake of 18% to The Coca-Cola Company which was then increased in April 2010 to 58% with the three founders retaining full operational control over the company.
However, Reed maintains that it wasn’t until around 2007 that he reached full confidence with their idea: "Every time something good happened I still didn't believe – it was just temporary respite from the paranoia that it was destined to fail”
Information taken from:
An interview with Courtney Rubin, July 26 2010 featured: [http://www.inc.com/articles/2010/07/building-englands-favorite-smoothie-company.html]
# Market share source: IRI Infoscan 2006