UK smoothie company Innocent turned 15 this year. From very humble beginnings, the company has grown in that time to become the biggest smoothie maker in Europe, turning over £200 million each year.
Most people know the company for its fruit drinks, noodle and veg pots, and range of ready meals. But the company has a fascinating history, filled with unusual stories.
Business Insider is toasting Innocent’s 15th birthday with 15 facts that most people don’t know about the business.
1. Innocent was founded in 1999 by three Cambridge University graduates. They put up a big sign at a jazz festival in London asking people if they thought they should give up their jobs to make smoothies. People voted by putting their empty bottles into a “yes” bin or a “no” bin.
2. It took a while to settle on a name. The company was originally called Fast Tractor.
3. It then became Hungry Aphid…then Nude…then Naked, before the co-founders decided on Innocent. The founders each ran up debts of £15,000 from overdrafts and credit cards in order to build the business in its early days. Here are the first three packaged-up smoothies the company made.
4. When Innocent was first trying to drum up business, the company took to the road in a stand-out grass-covered van, giving away drinks and selling healthy meals at markets, parks, and festivals. It even used to hold its own festival, The Village Fete.
5. The Innocent office — Fruit Towers — has still kept many of the quirks from its young startup stage, such as an AstroTurf “grass” carpet and a picnic bench breakout area. You can also still ring up the £19.99 office “banana phone” (yes, a novelty phone shaped like a banana) and chat to the staff. The number appears on its products and website and the phone rings hundreds of times a day.
6. Every year, Innocent holds an AGM (“A Grown-up Meeting”), where the company invites a couple of hundred customers to come into the office, try new recipes and share their views.
7. All Innocent packaging contains a secret message. Once you’ve finished drinking your smoothie, check the bottom of the bottle.
8. Coca-Cola took a minority stake in Innocent in 2009. In 2013, Coke increased its stake to near-100%, prompting Innocent’s co-founders to step away from the day-to-day running of the business. Richard Reed, the company’s then-CEO, explained the news to Innocent customers and reassured them the business would continue to run in its own “unique Innocent way,” via a YouTube video.
9. Innocent was forced in 2011 to call in legal counsel to protect its brand name against a business called Innocent Vitamins, a startup company founded by a single mum of two. Innocent Vitamins’ founder Dawn Reid said the trademark dispute was reminiscent of a match between “David and Goliath.” Reid eventually backed down and discontinued operating under the Innocent name.
10. For the past 11 years, Innocent has asked its customers to knit and send in little woolly hats, which it puts on top of the smoothie bottles it sells in-store. For every be-hatted smoothie it sells, Innocent makes a donation to charity Age UK. So far, the company has received more than 5 million hats as part of its Big Knit campaign.
11. Innocent staff like to play pranks on their co-workers. They then share them on the Innocent blog for the world to see. When Megan announced she was leaving the company to move to Canada, they boxed her in so she couldn’t escape.
12. Innocent worked out that if you placed all the bottles of all the smoothies they had ever made end-to-end, they’d stretch around the world 270 million times. That’s a lot of fruit. And a lot of peckish customers.
13. Innocent smoothies are made from 100% fruit and one of its 250ml bottles counts as two of the recommended five portions of fruit a day, as well as extra added benefits such as vitamin c and fibre. However, drinks containing so much fruit have their downsides: sugar. The Daily Mail found last year that Innocent’s pomegranates, blueberries, and Acai smoothie had the sugar equivalent of 3.5 Krispy Kreme Original Glazed Doughnuts.
14. Innocent donates 10% of its profits to charity, mostly to its own Innocent Foundation, which supports global projects to prevent hunger. The company released an advert in the UK last year, explaining the work it does for good causes.
15. Richard Reed, Innocent’s most famous co-founder, went on to create Art Everywhere, a charitable project that for six weeks every summer floods the streets of the UK with artwork.
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