Blog: Dean BestInnocent's food foray could be a banana skin

Dean Best | 26 September 2008

Innocent Drinks, the UK beverage group, has almost become short-hand for how to succeed as a start-up in the food and beverage world since its inception a decade ago.

But are there clouds gathering above the company's Fruit Towers HQ in west London?

Innocent, set up in 1999, has seen success almost since day one, becoming the domineering force in the UK smoothie market. That success drove Innocent to branch out into other categories like bottled water and juices, as well as to expand geographically into Europe.

That success bred confidence at Innocent; the company's co-founder Richard Reed told our sister two years ago that he saw a very bright future for the company. “We have a very clear path of growth to 2010 and beyond. We're incredibly chipper about the future,” he said in 2006.

Now, however, the future is looking less than bright – and questions are starting to be asked about Innocent's direction.

The company has seen its smoothie sales hit by the credit crunch. Like-for-like sales have fallen by around 20% in value in the last six months, Innocent's commercial director, Giles Brook, told just-drinks yesterday. Brook insists the smoothie sector as a whole has been hit by the downturn in consumer spending but it's still unwelcome news at a company that has made its latest significant expansion – into the food business.

Innocent has launched Veg Pots, a range of vegetable snacks that the company hopes will take off with consumers in a similar way to smoothies. Clare Gordon, manager for the Veg Pots range, told just-food that the products provide consumers who want to get more veg in their diet with a “healthy and convenient meal solution”.

“I hope we have produced something a little bit different from the other brands in the category. There are other things in the category that do a similar job; people may choose to eat a prepared meal or a pizza or soup, so there are other brands competing for the occasion but I don't think I've seen anything doing exactly what Veg Pots does,” Gordon says. “We've added something new to the category, rather than just an Innocent version of something that already exists.”

Whether consumers in this economic climate will take to Veg Pots – priced incidentally at GBP3.49 (US$6.41) – remains to be seen.

Innocent's move into food could be something of a banana skin.


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