My daughter, Ann-Marie asked me, a few months ago, if I had heard that ‘Innocent’, the fruit smoothie makers, had been bought by Coca Cola. I thought it was a bit odd – a giant manufacturer of not so healthy beverages acquiring a business that espoused extremely healthy principles, a green agenda and a commitment to donating 10% of its annual profits to charity – but she is usually right, so I didn’t argue!

I checked it out and she was ‘almost’ correct in that Coke had in fact increased their minority stake in the company, with the three original founders retaining majority ownership and operational control. It seems that the tie up with Coke, which initially happened just over a year ago, in order to facilitate international expansion of Innocent’s distribution, is proceeding well!

Anyway, while the Coke link is interesting, I was more interested in the information about Innocent which I had gleaned in the ‘How They Started’ book that I have been dipping into over the past few weeks, and the lessons that we can learn from their story.

‘Innocent’ was started by three guys who had been ‘playing’ with different business ventures during their time in college. They came up with the idea for a pure juice product – an alternative to the juice bar drinks that use concentrate, yoghurt and ice in their products.

Their initial market research was a stand at the ‘Jazz on the Green’ Festival in London at which they positioned two bins at either side of the stall, one with the word ‘YES’ painted on it and the other with the word ‘NO’. They then put up a sign asking;

“Should we give up our day jobs to start a smoothie business? – Please vote Yes or No with your empty bottles”

The answer was an overwhelming ‘YES’ but when they went in search of funding for the project, their insistence on purity and no preservatives sent the traditional investment sources scurrying away, citing three main concerns:

  • the total lack of experience of the founders
  • the complexity of the manufacturing process (using real fruit)
  • the risk associated with the very short shelf life of the product

Undeterred by these responses and driven by a real passion for their product purity principles, they ploughed on and engaged in a typically ‘Innocent’ fundraising strategy.

They sent out an e-mail to everyone they knew, asking;

“Does anybody know any rich people?”.

The mail found its way to a business angel who liked the combination of the product, the fun approach of the founders and their ethos around donating profits to charity and the treatment of staff. He ended up investing £250,000 for a 20% stake. And the rest, as they say is history….they had sales of £400,000 in 1999 which then grew to over £100 million by the end of 2008!

Their tenacity in holding onto their dream and their principles, brings to mind a quote attributed to Goethe when talking about commitment and clarity of purpose, it reads as follows:

“Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. For the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favour all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way”.

So if you are thinking of acting on a major decision in your business, perhaps even starting a new venture or changing direction, consider the ‘Innocent’ story ………. and go for it!

However, if the thought of doing something radical is still a little scary or you are a bit uncertain of the direction to follow, drop me an email.

I had a quick look at the ‘Innocent’ website and it shows that they were recently voted ‘The Best Workplace in the UK’ in the National Business Awards – It is heartening to see that great businesses can have great work environments too!