Tuesday, 7 April 2009
Two Stories about a 15% Stake
THE BBC (a neutral to positive story)
Coca-Cola has bought a £30m stake in Innocent, the British fruit drink and "smoothie" maker renowned for its ethical ethos.
Innocent says the minority investment will allow further European expansion. Co-founder Richard Reid said: "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 GUARDIAN (the 'sellout' line)
"Innocent, the defiantly non-corporate maker of fruit smoothies, juices and veg pots, has finally lost its innocence after selling a stake to US giant Coca-Cola for £30m....The sale of the stake marks a watershed moment for the 10-year-old company as it becomes the latest high profile success story to sell-up to a corporate giant....When asked if Coca-Cola had an option in the future to take a controlling stake in the company, Reed would not be drawn beyond saying that "nothing is definite in the future but of course both sides hope the relationship will prosper"."
WHICH VIEW WILL PREVAIL?
In 'buzz terms' probably the Guardian one, it's too archetypal a story - David takes payment from Goliath PLC. The internal reality at innocent - nice people working hard to build something they believe in - has always been slightly at odds with the fanatical following externally. They were completely caught out by the public reaction to their announcement they were going to be trialing selling innocent in a few McDonalds outlets. It was mystifying in some senses (for all I know they are also for sale in Shell garages - it might even be illegal to turn down a retailer on political grounds?) But it made perfect sense in cultural terms as people didn't like to see the lamb lying down with the wolf. Coca-Cola is another one of those sorts of brands. Coca-Cola was boycotted by many students unions from about 2003, although there are some doubts today over whether the reasons (Columbian human rights concerns and Indian water concerns) were valid.
I think the question is whose brand is it today and tomorrow. If as its £100m sales suggest it is the mainstream brand of healthy stuff for mums or office workers, the Coca-Cola connection would barely raise an eyebrow. If the original loyal following of more idealistic canvas shoe wearing hippy types still plays a pivotal role (or their public upset over this could) then it's a different story. My suspicion is that media like the Guardian will push the second view, but probably - honestly - nobody will give enough of a damn with everything else going on in the world and the next Ben & Jerry's type global brand will be born. My real concern is just how badly Coke marketers have screwed up brands like this in the past (think Fruitopia) but at least at this stage their almost unerring talent for inauthenticity will be kept well out of Fruit Towers. :J
Declaration of interest: I am very interested in this brand. (Oh and I did some work for them once, which was nice. From which point of view I do obviously wish them well with all of this too :)