innocent is not so innocent after all
You read it here first, back in June 2007: "The real risk for innocent is the sell-out. Indeed, my money goes on Coke to be the one who
swallows Innocent." Last week came news confirming that innocent had sold its soul, or at least 20% of it, to Coke for a cool £30million.
Of course, the founders protested that this would in no way undermine the company's positioning. Everything will stay the same. Honest. Supporters of the deal quote examples like Cadbury's aqusition of Green & Blacks to show that everything will be fine and dandy.
I'm not so sure. I think the innocent case is quite different. And as I said back in 2007, I think there are reasons to worry:
1. We really did believe in Santa
innocent has been very clever and very consistent in hard-selling the tale of a cute little company making "tasty little drinks". We really did believe in the company like we believed in Santa Claus as kids. All that knitting of woolly hats by little fruit-elves. Banana phones to call. And this emotional "sizzle" was part of the appeal for a lot of buyers.
This is now a lot harder to swallow knowing that it aint a private little company anymore. Its one step from being a subsidiary of the giant from Atlanta.
2. innocent users do give a toss
innocent users are very involved in the brand. And bought the Santa story described above. They loved it when times were good and helped it grow.
But a lot of them are now very pissed off. I think they are more pissed off than Green & Blacks users when Cadbury bought them. There are 304 comments on the innocent blog post on the deal. And most or all of these are negative. Now, some experts estimate that less than 1% of blog readers bother to comment. So that would mean 30,000 pissed off people. If they each tell 10 people what they think you can see how it becomes a big issue.
Here are the latest few comments from the blog; as you can see, all but one very angry:
"You thought wrong – you just killed your business 🙁 " (ow!)
"The fact is that now part of the profit from every innocent smoothie goes to lining the pockets of coke's shareholders." (ouch!)
used to be an ethically sound business but now when times get tough the
real value of whats important becomes clear: the almighty pound." (uh oh)
"Killed nothing, minority stake coke can and won't do anything, innocent still innocent I will still buy their products" (phew)
"Personally I boycott Coke. So now I'm not buying innocent either :(" (bang!)
this is misguided – you'll be a fig leaf for Coke's unethical corporate
machine. At worst it is a greed-driven betrayal of values and customers." (bash!)
"Disgrace but not surprising, you have sold your soul. That's the last time we buy your products." (whoops)
3. innocent was private not public
This is a big difference vs. the other example quoted by supporters of the deal: Ben & Jerry's. Yes this was another small-ish company taken over by a big one, Unilever. However, B&J was a publicly quoted company at the time, and was obliged by law to recommend the bid to shareholders. In other words, it had already effectively sold its soul to the stockmarket, and it was Unilever then buying it up.
This is different in the case of innocent which was privately owned by the founders and the employees.
4. Tropicana smoothies
As per prevous posts, I think innocent smoothie sales have suffered because Pespsico got its act together with Tropicana Smoothies, which are very nice and a bit cheaper. Rather then launching Veg Pots, innocent should have focused on growing the core smoothie business, and getting the price down to go more mainstream.
With Tropicana now very close to innocent on the sausage/product, the sizzle was key. And with that going flat, you might see a lot of people switching to Tropicana or old label.
My (sad) prediction? Another 10% drop in innocent smoothie sales in 2009.