Innocent splashed £200m on its first- ever factory, positioned on the edge of the port for fruit fresh off the boat. It is one of several moves to cut down its carbon footprint

It’s a drab day in Rotterdam’s busy port. From the lashing rain to clouds of puthering petrochemical smoke, this highly industrialised strip of dockland feels a long way from the city’s cosmopolitan hub a few miles inland.

Except perhaps in a seemingly forgotten corner, where, surrounded by the North Sea on one side and empty fields on the other, Innocent’s new factory stands in stark contrast to its fellow industrial dockers.

This is Innocent’s first-ever factory, opened in September 2021 under a promise to be one of the first carbon-neutral, all-electric drinks factories in the world. While most of Innocent’s carbon emissions sit within farming and agriculture, this new factory – dubbed The Blender – aims to cut the 5% it generates from blending, bottling and transportation, as part of the company’s pledge to be carbon neutral by 2025.

At a cost of £200m it hasn’t come cheap and pushed Innocent Drinks to a £10m loss last year. But by shrinking its footprint from outsourced factories across Europe to a single site that will eventually produce 70% of its drinks, the company is confident it’s the right move. “It’s good business because it’s ours,” says Sam Akinluyi, UK MD. “There’ll be big efficiencies from us having our own plant.”

Rotterdam’s location is key. “The whole idea of this is completely shrinking the logistics,” says Karina O’Gorman, Innocent’s European head of force for good. That is ultimately why Rotterdam was chosen. Not so much because of post-Brexit border checks that pushed certain companies to ditch Great Britain for European turf, but because of the simplicity of condensing a supply chain into a site just a few minutes from Europe’s biggest port. (Dutch officials confirm they approached Innocent about the idea as early as 2015.)


Source: Innocent

Automation and robotics are extensive

Fewer miles

Most of Innocent’s fruit arrives in Europe via Rotterdam, including its top-selling orange juice, which comes from Brazil into a dock 40 minutes away. By positioning The Blender so close, the juice can be transported to the factory in a fleet of e-trucks that help cut the company’s total road miles by about 20%.

Inside, it doesn’t exactly feel like a factory. Huge windows look out over the North Sea to flood the atrium with light. A ‘green wall’ of plants line the circular staircase. It is a challenge to the notion that factories are places for manufacturing rather than people.

Yet the processing part of the site is strikingly devoid of people. Most of it is made up of lofty spaces with nothing but thick stainless-steel tubes adorning the walls and ceilings, carrying juices and smoothies from A to B. Robotic forklifts are the sole occupants of one room, churning silently across the floor as they take barrels of juice from the shelf and tip them into machines.

What Innocent really wants though is for The Blender to be known for its innovations to cut carbon. “Everything that is innovative about this is something to do with sustainability,” says Akinluyi.

Here, there are a couple of things that stand out. The first is Innocent’s efforts to heat an entire factory without the use of gas. Its solution is to capture the heat used in the manufacturing process and recirculate it into the rest of the plant. “None of this was off the peg,” says O’Gorman. “So we had to figure out how on earth to design a factory to go against the norms we are seeing.”

This way, the factory should one day run solely on electricity from renewable energy. At the moment though, the only source is solar panels mounted on the floor rather than the roof, thereby saving the carbon cost of extra reinforced steel. Wind turbines are also in the plan, though for now the grid also plays a part.

Innocent’s other key innovation comes in its cleaning. Factories often use thousands of gallons of water to clean pipes, but Innocent now uses Fluivac – “a snazzy air tornado” – which it says cuts water use by 50%.

Within the factory’s final room, bottles queue up for their labels, a fairly complex process given each market needs a different one. But that’s Innocent’s own doing. It seems the downside of putting jokes on your packaging is that what’s funny in England isn’t funny in France. And you’d have to assume that’s a problem no amount of innovation can solve.