Coca-Cola Co. has secured a minority stake in UK smoothie company Innocent Drinks.

The UK-based firm confirmed today (6 April) that Coca-Cola Co. will take a share of “between 10% and 20%” in Innocent, for GBP30m (US$44.5m). The funds will be used to “help fund the mission to get more natural healthy products to more people across Europe”, Innocent said.

“We’re excited by this minority investment as it enables us to do more of what we are here to do – get natural, healthy products to as many people as possible,” said the co-founder of Innocent, Richard Reed. “All the money is coming into the business to fund our European expansion and the founders will continue to lead and run the company – we will be the same people, in the same offices, making the same products in the same way.

“Every promise that Innocent has made – about making only natural healthy products, pioneering the use of better, socially and environmentally aware ingredients, packaging and production techniques, donating money to charity and having a point of view on the world – will remain. We’ll just get to do them even more.”

The company, which confirmed last month that it was looking to offload a minority stake, said that it chose Coca-Cola because, “as well as providing the funds which will allow us to increase our investment in the brand both in the UK and internationally, they can help us get our products out to more people in more places”.

A spokesperson for Innocent told just-food’ sister site just-drinks that Innocent would remain “very much a stand-alone company.

“It’s an exciting next chapter for Innocent, to be able to use the money to expand, specifically in Europe,” the spokesperson said.

James Quincey, group business unit president for Coca-Cola Europe, added: “We have long admired their brand, their products and their unique approach to business.”

Quincey will sit on Innocent’s investment board, which will meet once a quarter, the spokesperson said, adding that no other personnel from Coca-Cola would be moving across to join Innocent.

Last year, worsening economic conditions hit Innocent smoothie sales, with like-for-like sales for the six months to the end of September falling by around 20% in value.

The drop was blamed at the time on declining consumer spending power, largely due to the rising cost of bills and food staples, as part of a general economic downturn.

Innocent also made its first foray into the food business last year, with the launch of snack range Veg Pots.