By Clark Turner
How do you turn a product into a brand, a brand into a UK market leader and then set your sights on European domination?
Welcome to the world of Innocent Drinks, the UK’s leading smoothie brand, which dominates the market with a 73 per cent share, up from 63 per cent in 2006.
The story began just 10 years ago. In the summer of 1998, Cambridge graduates, Adam Balon, Richard Reed and Jon Wright when they bought £500 worth of fruit, turned it into smoothies and sold them from a stall at a little music festival in London.
They put up a big sign saying 'Do you think we should give up our jobs to make these smoothies?' and put out a bin saying 'YES' and a bin saying 'NO' and asked people to put the empty bottle in the right bin. At the end of the weekend the 'YES' bin was full. They went in the next day and resigned.
Today, the basic principles of the company remain the same – to produce smoothie drinks simply made of fresh fruit and juice, with no concentrates.
However the company now has an annual turnover of £100 million with sights for expansion set on Europe and the US.
“Interestingly, when we launched we were the only smoothie producer in the market to offer drinks made from just resh fruit and juice our products,” Head of Communications for Innocent Drinks, Charlotte Rawlins, told us. “However over the past nine years, other brands have come into the market and our USP is now about out development of product.
“So for example, we were the first smoothie brand to bring out a kids range and a breakfast recipe. It’s about getting the product right and then building the brand around that.”
One of the secrets of the brands success has been a clarity of purpose to the business with employees across the board, from the most junior to senior, buying into the values of the brand and its modern way of marketing.
Another has been to ensure that the product and brand are completely in sync for complete consistency.
The brand’s closest rival is PJs but the brand still falls far behind’s market dominance.
“PJs have been investing in the brand recently but, generally over the past nine years there has neither been investment in product innovation or brand communications,” said Rawlins. “They also have completely different brand values to Innocent. We’ve always been open to interacting with consumers and encouraging a one-to-one dialogue.
Ethics are a critical lynchpin to the company with a desire to “leave things better than when they found them”. Meanwhile the company donates 10 per cent of it profits to charity with a large proportion allocated to the Innocent Foundation to help communities from where fruit is sourced.
It’s a message that Innocent is keen to communicate in its advertising through retained agency Lowe. The latest TV campaign ‘Carlos Cockerel’ aims to both explain the contents of the product as well as the sustainability of source.
“Any brief takes its lead from the product and talking about sustainability was something new we’d never done before,” Rawlins explained. “But it’s all got to be done with a lightness of touch. Rather than coming across as some CSR campaign from some corporate, we needed to demonstrate its something we simply do as a brand.”
When the company launched 10 years ago, the target market was twenty-something urbanites in London looking for a health fix but with entry into grocery distribution - with 1 litre and kids packs - has widened the parameters.
Reaching a broader demographic of shoppers means that smoothies are more on their radar and Innocent’s unique message of sustainability has never been more important as brand value. A recent move has been to introduce bottles that are 100 per cent recycled and sourcing bananas from the rainforest alliance.
As the company continues to reassess its carbon footprint, its ultimate aims is to become not an FMCG but an FMSG – with the S standing for ‘Sustainable’.
Rawlins told us, “There’s no rule book to building a brand. You have to build from your principles and make sure there’s a good product at the heart of it. If that’s the case, a good reality and image will follow.
“It’s also important to pay attention to detail. For example, we carry fun messages and engaging messages on our bottles and say “enjoy by” as opposed to “use by”. It’s a small thing but our customers pick up on it and it builds loyalty. We’ talk about ‘sharing the love’.”
She continued, “We say that ‘new ideas are our life blood’ and are consistently looking a doing genuinely interesting things to generate talkability.”
Innocent’s relationship with its consumers is all-important and the company works hard to make them fee well treated. eCRM plays a major role in this with a newsletter sent to 120,000 subscribers.
“We’re perhaps not as sophisticated in database management as we’d like to be but we do realise the value of direct contact and are making to make our newsletters more personalised, “Rawlins told us.
The programme provides on-going support for the brand’s ATL activity on TV and in the press.
“We still feel we have to crack outdoor. We always feel we have more to say than can be taken in from a billboard,” she admitted.
So what next for the brand? Plans to bring Innocent wholesomeness to skincare, ethically produced clothing.
“We never say never in terms of brand extensions but really for the next few years our plan is to become Europe’s favourite smoothie company and market leader,” Rawlins concluded.
And with the company’s track record so far they might become just that.
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