Pure And Simple

Transparency in all things spells success for UK juice brand

by Pauline Tingas,
Senior Editor
Amidst what seems to be a growing tide of unscrupulous business doings, the premise of a brand called ‘Innocent’ plays very well. Indeed. Innocent Drinks, a plainspoken UK launch selling smoothies in 1999, has expanded to “juicy” waters, yogurt “thickies” and kids’ smoothies and has rocketed to become the UK’s fastest growing food and beverage company and the third fastest growing firm overall.
Though anchoring the brand on “innocence” was not a calculated play by founder Richard Reed and his two college classmates. It was simply a reflection of the disillusionment the three friends were feeling after they graduated and took “proper” jobs.
Consider the story of their start. To help decide whether their venture was viable, the trio conducted a simple product tasting at a London music festival, asking consumers to drop their empty containers in either a “yes” or “no” garbage bin. Needless to say, the end of the day saw the “yes” can flowing over with empties.
So with Richard designated to manage the brand, the friends made a pact to make it a go and, most of all, keep it simple, unadulterated and engagingly honest.
Nowhere is that more apparent than in the packaging. Early on, Reed looked at what was essentially a nonexistent marketing budget and saw the opportunity to make a connection by chatting with consumers directly on the packaging.
The caps don’t say “Use by…” they say “Enjoy by…” and the bottoms of bottles are printed with delightfully disarming phrases like “Stop looking at my bottom.” That tone of familiarity extends to other elements too. The ingredient list on an Innocent label, for instance, might catalogue “a few small pebbles” among the crushed blackberries and pressed apples; it’s only at the bottom of the list that the brand comes clean: “We lied about the pebbles.”
Then there is the logo—a simple line drawing of a face with a halo; a replica of the sketch the founders first made on a napkin with a felt tip pen. And muted labels give prominence to clear PET bottles that let consumers better see the product inside.
“We knew we wanted clear packaging to show off the fantastic, natural colors of our fruit smoothies. Since then, many other brands have moved to clear packaging too,” says Reed. “It is simple so it stands out on shelf. And it appeals to ethically minded consumers because it is recycled.”
Though he is quick to point out that recycling is not a “green” initiative for Innocent, it’s just part of being good.
“We have been innovators in this field since we started the company,” says Reed. “We were the first to launch 25 percent post consumer recycled PET packaging. Recently we’ve managed to increase the recycled content to 50 percent. And we’re working on a 100 percent compostable bottle next. We like our brand to be consistent across all areas whether it is packaging, sourcing our ingredients, or choosing how we lay out our office (it is all open plan).”
It’s true. Every facet is endearingly honest to the brand. Last year’s “Keeping Little Bottles Warm” Christmas campaign, for instance, had Innocent donating a sum from every bottle sold in a UK café chain to a charity for the elderly. Now Reed didn’t just slap on some hangtags to promote the effort, he made the campaign uniquely “Innocent” by covering bottles with tiny woolen caps hand knit by the staff and fans of the brand. The campaign resulted in more than 20,000 hat-strewn bottles, an increase in sales by 100 percent and a donation of £12,200 ($22,586 USD) to charity.
Clearly, Reed has expertly tapped into and created a cultural phenomenon in the UK and beyond (more than 6,000 retailers carry Innocent across Europe). And consumers are feverish in their response—not just by knitting a cap or two for the Christmas campaign (the web site features knitting instructions for this year’s effort) but by buying 1 million Innocent drinks each week.
Numbers like that give Reed a little room to infuse the brand experience into the company culture too: if you get a job there, your offer arrives with a case-load of drinks. And that’s when you realize that, at Innocent at least, there is fun (and profit) in doing good. BP
Name: Richard Reed
Age: 32
Title: Co-founder
Innocent’s birth date: “April 99 was the day we sold our first smoothie.”
Where or when do your best ideas come to you?
“Everywhere, really. But I love going to the park to have a think.”
What do you consider the ultimate branded package?
“Our own, of course.”
What are you reading right now?
Joanna Blythman, The Food We Eat