From the top · 23 May 2018

Lessons from Innocent: Work hard, be authentic, watch Kevin Costner movies

Innocent tells the story of how the brand grew from humble beginnings to a supermarket giant
Last week the Isle of Man held its third annual Islexpo, a business conference and networking event, positioning the island as a great place to start and grow new businesses.

The event certainly got off to a bang with a keynote speech from Dan Germain from Innocent.

He polled the audience and all but two people in the packed conference hall had had an Innocent drink in their lifetime quite an accomplishment for any business.

They may be a gladiator of the fruit juice aisle now, but the brand started from very humble beginnings.

Kevin Costner

Germain brought up a poster of Kevin Costner in Water World a film that not everyone had even heard of, and which Germain himself conceded he had only half-watched. The movie had a large budget, and made huge losses.

Next, he brought up a picture of another Costner movie Field of Dreams, famous for the line if you build it, he will come. The premise of the movie, if you don’t know, is that a farmer builds a baseball field in the middle of a corn field so that ghosts can come and use it as a hang out.

Germain admitted the idea was sketchy, but that for some reason, it’s brilliant.

In the early days of Innocent, all the business advice the founders were receiving felt like Water World-style advice. It was all about money and scale, but they just wanted to build something they liked.

The founders went to university together, and waned to create something that made it easy for people to do themselves some good. Smoothies werent a big deal in the UK back in the 90s, and so began Innocent’s very own Field of Dreams.

Choosing a name

Have you ever heard of Fast Tractor? This was the first name the company started with.

it was a hell of a ride it was also the worst brand in the world, said Germain.

The founders had met a man with a carrot farm, and he was the only man that would help them make their drinks. He also had a fast tractor.

it’s quite a hard thing to look at each other and say, so you think this is shit? Because I dobut I don’t want to say it first

Eventually, they decided to start from scratch. Innocent was a much better fit for the brand to have a relationship with a brand, you need to know its values, and Innocent? communicates that far more effectively.

Making it work

The business took a load of drinks down to a small music festival in London with a sign asking the customers if they thought they should give up their day jobs. There were two bins a yes bin, and a no bin.

The drinks were popular.

In the early days, making the brand work was about getting up early to deliver drinks, clean the van and call sandwich shops and delis.

The business considered branching out into all kinds of things, including green energy and hotels, but they realised the one thing they were really good at was making drinks.

keep the main thing the main thing, said Germain.

Being innocent

In the beginning, Innocent actually gave away too much money it needed to learn how to operate more like a business.

we got smart about how we gave away money after about five years, Germain said.


 
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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Letitia Booty is a special projects journalist for Business Advice. She has a BA in English Literature from the University of East Anglia, and since graduating she has written for a variety of trade titles. Most recently, she was a reporter at SME magazine.

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