Is innocent about to sell its soul to Coke?

Almost 2 years ago, back in June 2007, a post here called "Is innocent about to lose its way?" made the following prediction:

"The real risk for the
brand is of course the sell-out. And with sales heading North of $200
million, you have to wonder if the sell-out of Innocent is months
rather than years away. Indeed, my money goes on Coke to be the one who
swallows Innocent.
If this does happen, then there is a real risk that
a brand that was hot, will suddenly be not.

Well, the sell-out took a bit longer than I predicted, but yesterday came news that the innocent are selling a stake in their business, supposedly to fuel international expansion. And guess who is at the top of the line with a big bag of cash? Yup. Coca-Cola. This was hot news, with 512,00 hits Google on this new item.

Picture 1

As long as the purchase is only a minority stake, I guess innocent may be OK. After all, McDonalds bought a 33% share in lovely sandwich firm Pret back in 2001, and the company continued to do prosper. You can read more about Pret here. (The giant burger company subsequently sold its stake to a venture capital company).

However, I do worry. I personally lived through the sale of a private business to a big corporate, back when I was working at the consultancy Added Value, now part of WPP. You could literally feel the soul of the company evaporate the day after the sale went through. The small, family feel of the firm went, replaced by a more corporate culture. Funnily enough, our sale was also to fund international expansion. The problem with this is that the founders are off round the world on their travels, not focusing on the core business in the UK.

Also, innocent already pissed off a lot of punters with their decision to sell smoothies in McDonald's. This one I backed, but if they were now to sell to Coke, it becomes a bit much.

And boy is this a time that innocent need to focus on the core, with smoothie sales down 20%