Inside innocent: my trip to Fruit Towers

The highlight of my blogging to date is by a country mile the invite from Dan, creative director of innocent, to have a chat about my recent post (“Is innocent losing its way?”). Yesterday morning I headed over to Fruit Towers and had a great time being shown round  by Dan and talking about what innocent are up to. What a thoroughly nice bloke. The trip only served to further intensify my already strong feeling about the brand, both as a consumer and brand bloke.

In the spirit of friendly feedback, I thought I’d start with “Reasons to be cheerful” about innocent that I picked up from my visit.. [Tomorrow, I’ll do “Reasons to be careful”, as I still think the “This Water” launch throws up some important questions.]

So, here’s my go at “bottling” some of the magic….

1. Putting product passion at the heart of the brand
I’ve posted about the product passion at innocent before, based on seeing a talk by Jamie, the ex-Marketing Director. My visit to Fruit Towers confirmed just how strong the commitment to product is. The first thing you see on entering is a chiller cabinet full of smoothies, and the nice lady on reception invites you to help yourself. And the first thing Dan showed me on our walk-around was the product development “kitchen” in the centre of the building, where they experiment at making new smoothies. As the products contain “nothing but nothing but fruit”, anyone can have a bash. Nice, and sort of home-madey. But this is backed up with some serious talent in the product area. This is led by an ex M&S lady who used to work on their juices. And they hire food science graduates  each year.

But what impressed me most is the depth of expertise innocent are developing in fruit. They have a lady who just does berries, for example. She knows about seasonality and how this affects taste. And of course, they are also very into the ethical/sustainable side of things.

It truly is a brand where sausage and sizzle sit together side by side and work together in perfect harmony.


2.Being truly values-led
I was surprised to see a framed set of 5 values on the wall as I walked round. I’ve always been wary of this, because most companies don’t live by their values. But my chat with Dan confirmed what I thought about innocent: it is one of the few examples of a truly values-led business.

What is most interesting about the 5 values in the tension in them. The first 3 are what you might expect from innocent:
– Responsible
– Generous
– Natural

And you certainly see this in everything the brand does. From the way people dress, to the way they behave, through to the products they sell, to sourcing and the innocent foundation. But the last 2 are less obvious:
– Commercial
– Entrepreneurial

Dan talked a lot about looking for people who have an eye for business, and a desire to get on with stuff and make things happen. This allows them to launch new products, open up new markets and move quickly. Also, innocent are clear that they are a profit-making business who need to make a profit, not a charity out to only do good. Indeed, its by running the company efficiently that they can make a bigger impact on the things they care about.


3. Feels like a family, not a company
In addition to product, the other area Dan talked about as being “beefed up” is people. Again, the company has invested in bringing in professional people in this area to get it right. But the key thing I picked up on is hiring people based on their values and attitudes, not just their skills. Dan talked about “the van test”, which is thinking whether you’d like to spend a day with a potential new hire crammed in one of the innocent vans.

And of course, Fruit Towers itself is as cool a place as you’d expect with beanbags, picnic benches, table football games, baby photos on the walls and astro-turf on the floor.

Finally, there is a list of benefits/perks as long as your arm. I found this paper on these benefits, that you download here: Download good_practice_innocent.rtf

4. Commitment to creativity
I’ve lost count of the number of workshops, conferences and meetings where I’ve talked about the innocent tone of voice, especially in their pack copy. I coined the phrase “packvertising” to  describe how effective packaging like innocent’s can be in promoting the brand. However, no brand I have worked with or watched has come close to being as good as innocent at this. How come?

Talking to Dan suggested a few reasons. First, Dan pointed out that other brands have tried to copy innocent’s innocent tone of voice, rather than creating their own voice. Second, innocent’s level of commitment is strong. Dan leads a team of 12 internal creative people who write all the copy for the packaging, booklets and other materials. Brand teams I have worked with struggled to get one lot of decent copy on their packs that change once a year. Well, Dan and his team change every pack roughly once every 3 months. We work ed out that taking into account all the formats and flavours, he has to do one set of pack copy per day!

And Dan has hired a creative person in each of the new international offices to keep the magic alive but localised as they go into new markets like France, Germany and Denmark.


5. Differentiation = “1000 nice little touches”
We talked about what made innocent different, and how come it had
managed to keep a 50%+ share of the UK smoothie market, despite me-too
launches from retailers and big hitting brands like Tropicana. And it comes down to 1000’s of nice little touches. Other brands can copy one or two of these (e.g. recipes and pack design); but they can’t copy all of them. When I asked how innocent manage to get their brand into every little nook and cranny, again Dan suggested that this comes down to people and culture. By hiring the right people, people do the right thing.

Take something as mundane my arrival at Fruit Towers. At the door, you don’t buzz to get in. A sign says “Knock and we’ll let you in.” Never had to knock to get into any company before. Nice. On entering, you have a couple of friendly ladies sit behind what looks like like a kitchen table, and ask you to sign in then help yourself to a smoothie. As you do this, you see a huge board full of untidily pinned up letters and photos from innocent fans. And when you do sign in, you’re asked to write not only your name, but your favourite smoothie. Wham bam, thankyou brand. In less than 3 minutes, I get it. And I’m only in reception. Do the same reception test next time you go to your head office.

Just a few of the other 1000 little touches that make innocent so different include the bobble hats that raise money for charity at Xmas, knitted by Supergrans, the innocent pinboard that updates daily and the Fruitstock  event.


All this from a 45 minute trip. And I could go on, but its time to wake the girls up for breakfast and a nice big carton of innocent smoothie!

Thanks Dan for the visit. And thanks to everyone at innocent for being so brilliant and inspiring me and so many other people.

Tomorrow, a few “reasons to be careful”, in order to keep the magic alive….