The Unsuitablog

Exposing Ethical Hypocrites Everywhere!

Innocent Drinks: A Very Predictable Sell-Out

Posted by keith on April 12th, 2009

Richard Reed

I can still hear the silence, and feel the stares in the back of my neck, as I walked towards the exit door during Richard Reed’s presentation — a presentation that he thought would paint him as the capitalist saviour of the planet — stung by a comment that told me, ever so clearly, that Innocent Drinks were no better than any other profit-making entity. They just had the fingerprints of the over-eager, light-green glitterati over their bottles: a slavering mob of idiots who thought, and still think, that the solution to ecological collapse lies in the exchange of capital.

Innocent drinks have sold a stake in their business for £30million (about $45m) to Coca Cola:

Innocent, the defiantly non-corporate maker of fruit smoothies, juices and veg pots, has finally lost its innocence after selling a stake to US giant Coca-Cola for £30m.

Innocent, which markets itself as eco-friendly and distributes drinks in vans made to look like cows, has sold a minority stake of between 10% and 20% to Coca-Cola in order to raise funds so it can expand into Europe.

The sale of the stake marks a watershed moment for the 10-year-old company as it becomes the latest high profile success story to sell-up to a corporate giant.

Innocent joins alumni which include UK sandwich chain Pret a Manger, which sold a minority stake to McDonald’s, ice-cream maker Ben & Jerry’s, which sold up to Unilever, and Cadbury, which took over trendy organic chocolate company Green & Black’s.

I have nothing to add beyond what I wrote back in November 2007, following my exit from Mr Reed’s appropriately smooth presentation — an article that included the words “Coca Cola”:

Ok, being uber-cool in jeans, t-shirt and Ugg boots on a stage in front of 300 environmentalists of varying shades is not, in itself, reason to have someone walk out on you, but I did give it at least 2 minutes before I left. Here’s why.

I had spent a day and a half at the 2007 Be The Change conference in London, listening to some brilliant talks from David Wasdell, Rob Hopkins and Stewart Wallis among others; some of the talks made me hopeful, others made me angry – these were the good ones.

Late in the morning Richard Reed of Innocent Drinks (no, you can’t have a link) stepped out on the stage in the above accoutrements, and started what was essentialy an advertising spiel about himself and the company. Now don’t forget that there were some pretty hard-core anti-corporate people in here, so he would not have been expected to approach his subject in the same way as he would if, say, he was speaking in front of a Corporate “Social Responsibility” (sic.) seminar. He obviously forgot this, and less than two minutes in he presented a slide which said:

Capitalism Has Won

This is a good thing.

Bizarrely, Innocent Drinks are actually a pretty good company as far as companies go, apart from the fact that they sell millions of drinks in small containers. Ok, they are one of the better companies that sell drinks in small containers. Coca Cola are shit. Just so you know where I am coming from.

I saw a shade of pink when I saw that slide. Firstly, capitalism hasn’t “won”, unless you consider “winning” to be sweeping all before it in a toxic cloud and burning the planet as it goes leaving us in the kind of mess that means any future the planet has will probably not involve arcane calculations involving interest rates and margin calls. Second, and for the reasons I have stated, that is not “a good thing”.

Then Richard Reed of Innocent Drinks said:

“If it wasn’t for capitalism we’d probably still be living in mud huts”

This is the kind of person that some environmentalists think is a good guy. So, Mr Reed, which is better in the long run: living in a mud hut (yurt, tipi, stone and turf house or any other low impact dwelling) that is highly sustainable with a minute impact on the environment; or living in a typical industrial society dwelling which in your case probably has a number of cars, a great deal of lighting and appliances, carbon dioxide spewing concrete, perhaps a patio, a swimming pool even, and of course air conditioning?

“we’d probably still be living in mud huts”

Yeh, right on! Why not have a pop at the tribes who live rich, sustainable lives. Their lives are appalling aren’t they? Well, they are now we’ve introduced disease to their homelands. Oh, and convinced them they they need material wealth in order to be happy. And then thrown them out of their homelands because this great capitalist society wanted the wealth buried beneath their feet. And then denied them any rights.

“living in mud huts”

I have friends who live in one-room shacks made from recycled timber. They share things and have communal living spaces, and live in touch with their natural surroundings which they are trying to protect. They are some of the happiest people I know.

I was sitting in the front row. I saw red. I stood up, tutted loudly then stamped my way to the back and walked through the doors.

9 Responses to “Innocent Drinks: A Very Predictable Sell-Out”

  1. keith Says:

    I love this comment on the Innocent Blog:

    “Innocent were never, ever more than 2 ex McKinsey Consultants (the uber-consultants of the corporate world)and an ex Coca-Cola (isn’t that a coincidence..) Marketing exec’s business plan of how to make a bucket-load of money by building a brand. They knew that hippie ethics were highly marketable to the latte culture we had become, they knew that they would have to build a ‘story’ with the requisite hippie factor (note: the story is made in advance and then acted out eg ‘we’ll go to a music festival – cos that’ll sound good when we retell it in our corporate branding and will be congruent with the hippy thing…’). They will have studied the bejesus out of Ben & Jerrys and various other brands that have done this before them(given their backgrounds they would have had to keep up with the latest – mostly US – business trends).

    “Innocent have built a beleiveable story around them being relaxed and laissez faire and that all this has almost happened by accident to 3 guys who happened to like fruit juice…ahem , that’ll be a ‘no’.

    “Innocent were a marketing company – they’ve never made their own juices but subcontract to ‘secret’ contractors (who no doubt make juices for umpteen others) so they’ve never been really interested in making juice (apart from when they had to , to build a story….eg that music festival thing…). No, they been much more interested in selling juices than making them.

    “They were never that Innocent anyway given there unwillingness to support organic fruit and vegetable producers.

    “As an exercise in how to build a brand, they deserve a round of applause and the ex Coke Marketing exec will now be back at Coca Cola head office with enhanced standing and McKinsey and Bain Consulting will be taking the other two back to once again prowl corporate boardrooms (with their ties back on, naturally)

    “No matter what you think, the boys done good by their standards.”

    Some of the other comments are pretty dynamite too. A perfect example of why businesses have no part to play in the solution to environmental collapse.

  2. steve Says:

    Good on you for walking out – the mud hut comment was pretty loathsome. Likewise the sell out to Coke. So you know where my sentiment lies…. I made my share of comments on their site too.

    That being said I think your stance is too extreme. Trade and business are human endeavours and have been around for as long as we have I’d imagine. There is evidence of neolithic trading and trading among other hominid/ape species. Trade is good – its what enables us to allow intelligence to be intelligent and strength to be strong. We trade and share our skills. Trade allows disabled humans to eat by selling their other abilities – disabled animals just die. What is wrong is the corporate capital model of trade that has emerged in which value is not attached to real goods and services and has instead become attached to pure capital.

    It is trade which will reveal to Richard and his boys why the sell out was a huge mistake – they sold their unique selling point – now they are just another unethical smoothie among many. I want my kids to eat well and I don’t force my convictions on them, if we want a good smoothie and don’t care about ethics, a supermarket own brand (just as good tasting) is 60% yes 60% cheaper than innocent and since innocent is no longer ethical – what would you pay the extra 60% for….. the brand? That is the logic of capital but it wont hold up. Trade will win out, without the added value of ‘innocence’ and the ethics, they simply can not compete and will go the way of that other company, whatever they were called who sold to Pepsi.

  3. keith Says:

    Actually, Steve, my stance is pretty much the same as yours – trade is not the problem, primates other than humans trade, and all human cultures trade to a certain extent. As you say, the problem is capital – the bit in the middle, which leads to wealth accumulation, greed, envy, violence, isolation end so on.

    Get rid of that and we are forced to connect with the source of the things we use: that connection leads to an inevitable and dramatic reduction in the goods and services we desire – face up to your demons and you would rather close your eyes. Remove your eyelids and you have no choice but to combat the demon.

  4. htiek Says:

    hi keith,

    always cool to appear as fortuneteller, right? and to get at least some traffic to your site, you put a link in your comment on innocent’s high traffic website. whereas on your own site you neglect to give em a link in your first post of 2007. ok. so far so good.

    I respect your point of view – that differs from my point of view – but I don’t understand why you quote obvious inaccurate information in your today’s morning comment. None of the 3 innocent founders ever has worked for Coke before. Also, they weren’t 2 McKinsey consultants – Adam has worked there briefly. Dan from innocent from time to time steps in and gives insights where inaccurate info is used.

    if you would be so much into this topic you would have recognised these 2 little mistakes. or at least you would have read all the comments. but looks better in your propaganda, right?


    let’s see how long you will let my comment live here…

  5. keith Says:

    Why don’t I link back to Innocent? Well, I think that should be obvious.

    I have had people threatening to hit me, and have left their comments : I too, like people to make their own minds up about the information presented – there are many sides to every tale…

  6. htiek Says:

    but you do like to see your link on innocent’s website? that’s not consistent.

    your point of view to wrong info posted on innocent’s board and on your board?

  7. keith Says:

    So explain why I linked back to the comments page earlier.

    Given the amount of lies promulgated by corporations, I tend to give the benefit of the doubt to non-corporate people – you have provided an alternative view. Well done.

  8. htiek Says:

    keith, your acting is not consistent at all.

  9. keith Says:

    I find that most insulting, my Hamlet was the talk of the town in 1968!

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