Is Innocent about to loose its way?

There are a couple of early warning sighs on the Innocent brand that make me worry they are about to loose their way. I posted a couple of weeks ago on the problem of brands being "hot, then not". I do hope this is not the case with Innocent, as its one of my favourite brands, and I truly admire what they have built.

Warning sign number 1: the re-launch of their Innocent Juicy Water range as "This Water".
According to Marketing magazine, this is Innocent’s attempt to enter "the functional soft-drinks market with a series of water products containing added vitamins and minerals". Mmmm. Innocent’s success has been about selling "tasty little drinks" that were packed with natural goodies and, as the name suggests, nothing added. The tag-line is "Nothing but nothing but fruit". Doesn’t a fortified range of drinks sounds un-innocent? And sort of scientific.

Also, This Water is a new brand, with weak Innocent endorsement ("From the people at Innocent"). It seem that this is because the brand owners feel the product doesn’t fit Innocent’s fruit-based equity, and so they want to distance it from the core. But then, why do it!? And while we’re on the issue of naming/branding, isn’t "This Water" a bit of crap name?

The only thing Innocent Juicy Water had going for it was the link to the Innocent brand…now this has been taken away, and they have to launch a whole new brand into the highly competitive water market. And now they have a brand portfolio to manage, and what relationship the This Water brand has with the core mother brand blah blah blah… I can just see the Powerpoint charts now. This is unwanted distraction from growing the core business.

Warning sign number 2: sales over £100 million.
The Innocent brand is now seriously big, with 2006 sales of £96million, up 140%. The chances are that Richard Reed and the other founding directors of the brand have got their hands more than full with managing this growth. We need a bigger office. We need a new IT system. We need to hire a team to do the German launch. And on the list of management tasks goes. The result is that they have to hire a new team of people to do the most important stuff: brand development and innovation.

Brand leaders stepping back is one thing. But 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. Pepsi has bought PJ Smoothies in the UK, and Coke snapped up the US version of Innocent, Odwalla a few years ago. 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.

I do genuinely hope I’m wrong, as I love the Innocent brand both as a consumer and a branding bloke. What do you think?