Apart from this paragraph, my column is horsemeat-free this week (would that Ikea could say the same of its meatballs). It’s not that I’m bored of the scandal. But there’s more to grocery than contamination and fraud. And I want to turn my attention to more innocent and uplifting matters.
I’m talking about Innocent Drinks. As thegrocer.co.uk revealed last Friday, its founders are to relinquish day-to-day control to the existing management team this May, while selling most of their remaining 42% stake to Coca-Cola, with whom they first went into partnership in 2009.
“Innocent’s founders have had an incredible influence on fmcg, marketing, Britain’s startup culture and the nation’s health”Adam Leyland, Editor
With sales more than doubling to £209m since that deal was struck, and the business returning to profit (after coming dangerously close to the proverbial pulper at the onset of the recession), the earnout deal is certain to make them very rich indeed. And they deserve it. Adam Balon, Richard Reed and Jon Wright were the poster children of entrepreneurialism throughout the 2000s and, even as a small company, had an incredible influence on fmcg, on marketing, on Britain’s startup culture, and the nation’s health.
But the growth they’ve achieved under Coca-Cola’s ownership - turning the tables on PepsiCo’s Tropicana in the juices market to devastating effect and in a recession! - has been every bit as impressive. Many startups lose their zeitgeist when a giant corporate gets involved. In Innocent’s case, while benefiting from Coke’s investment and its buying power and expertise in some areas, with help from its lawyers it managed to retain its unique identity and independence. And grow like billy-o. Coca-Cola deserves credit, too, avoiding the temptation to meddle - although their very different supply chains will have helped.
Incredibly, Innocent’s founders have written just two business plans (they claim). The first, to angel investor Maurice Pinto in 1999, promised sales of £5m within five years. The second, touted round the City in 2008, said sales would double from £100m to £200m. Both turned out to be spot on. The question is: can Innocent keep up the good work without them?