Unlikely bedfellows they may seem, but Innocent Drinks this week insisted its decision to sell its products through McDonald's restaurants would benefit the health of the nation's kids.

Since they were launched in 1998, sales of Innocent smoothies have hit £110m, showing growth of 90% year-on-year (Nielsen, 52 weeks to 31 March 2007). The brand is now the 10th largest in the UK's soft drinks category.

News of the tie-up with the fast food giant suggests this phenomenal momentum will be maintained - but it will also have raised a few eyebrows.

Innocent's success has been built largely on its image as a responsible manufacturer of healthy foods.

McDonald's, however, has borne the brunt of the backlash against fatty and salty foods as concern about rising obesity levels in children has escalated.

Innocent MD Jamie Mitchell told The Grocer that the company had wrestled with its conscience before agreeing to the deal - and had consulted its entire workforce over the matter.

In the end it was decided that it represented a chance to influence children's diets for the better.

"I don't want to get into a debate attacking or defending McDonald's," said Mitchell. "We know there is a negative perception of the company by some, but there is no doubt that this is a phenomenal opportunity to get our smoothies into more children.

"If their parents are taking them out for a treat at McDonald's then at least we can make sure they are getting one of their portions of fruit at the same time."

McDonald's will be selling Innocent's strawberry, blackberry and raspberry kids' smoothie. It will trial the drinks across the north east of England until November and will stock them permanently if sales are strong enough.

"This trial is a further step towards making our fruit smoothies available where children eat," said Mitchell.