Drinks brand Innocent turns 18 this year; a fact that seems to surprise even those who have been with the brand for a while. Launched in West London’s Parsons Green, Innocent started off by selling fruit smoothies out of a van but has since seen growth of epic proportions – helped in part by being acquired by Coca-Cola in 2013.
Its latest results prove that demand for the drinks certainly aren’t slowing. Jamie Sterry, brand and communications planner at the company, claims 2016 was its “biggest ever financial year”.
Sales grew by 23% in the year to 31 December 2016, coming in at £303.5m and the company saw a return to profit, making £8.5m compared to a loss of £700,000 last year. More than half of the sales were from outside the UK, with France seeing a 49% rise to £62m and Germany up 34% to £75m. Over the past five years, the business has tripled in size.
Despite this growth, Sterry claims the business has “not changed at all” because it has managed to hold on to its brand purpose of “allowing consumers to do themselves some good”. He admits, however, that one of its biggest challenges as it looks to continue that growth be to “stay little at heart”.
“We were one of first brands to have purpose truly at the heart. That part of the business hasn’t changed at all as we’ve grown. Our business is probably more relevant in today’s world than we were then,” he tells Marketing Week.
Honing in on ‘health and wellness’
Innocent’s success comes despite the soft drinks industry facing new challenges, with consumers steadily moving away from sugary drinks and the Government introducing a levy on sugary drinks. While exempt from the sugar tax, fruit juices and smoothies have also faced scrutiny.
Sterry insists the debate around sugar “can only be a good thing”, as it has made the UK more focused on health and wellness than in the past. Innocent does not add any sugar to its drinks, and only includes the sugar found in the fruit.
He claims the vast majority of the British public understands that fruit juice and smoothies are “vital for a healthy diet”, which is why the war on sugar has not “significantly affected” the brand or the business.
Smoothies are our heartland, but [we want to turn] niche health trends into more mainstream mass market products. Over the next few years, our portfolio will diversify into more health and wellness products.
Jamie Sterry, Innocent
This increased appetite for healthier beverages is something the brand is keen to capitalise on further. In recent years, it has added coconut water, protein smoothies and flavoured sparkling water to its portfolio, and Sterry insists Innocent wants to “lead the evolution of health and wellness drinks”.
“Smoothies are our heartland, but [we want to turn] niche health trends into more mainstream mass market products. We believe we have a brand that can do that. Over the next few years, our portfolio will diversify into more health and wellness products,” he says.
A new brand positioning
Innocent’s stronger stance on health and wellness will also play a bigger role in its marketing. The company is currently working on a new brand positioning for 2018 and last year appointed creative agency Mother to deliver the work, although Sterry is tight-lipped on what this might look like.
“Whether it’s ethics, sustainability or our foundation through which we help the world’s hungry, we have a lot to say. On paper, we are very relevant to modern society,” he says.
“We speak to people in a human way and we are sustainable in the way we do business. What we need to do is communicate that in a clear and meaningful way [through a] new brand positioning that holds everything together. It’s important for us to evolve our brand.”
Sterry says the brand is also looking to switch up its marketing strategy. This is something Innocent “didn’t necessarily have” when it started out 18 years ago, but was developed over time. The brand is known for favouring social media communications and experiential events. It now faces a strategic problem where it has to maintain “conversational marketing but for a huge amount of people”.
“Rather than using the generic ways to reach people through above-the-line broadcast media where you are telling people a story, we want to engage people and have conversations and connections at scale differently. We will certainly be using digital and social as part of that, and expanding what we do there is going to be key,” he says.
Upping its focus on digital
This year, there has been a heavy focus in the marketing industry on issues such as brand safety, viewability and ad fraud. When asked how Innocent has been responding to these issues, Sterry admits it is still in the “early” stages of dealing with it.
While it hasn’t hired anyone full-time internally to look into issues such as brand safety, it has been partnering with a number of agencies to tackle fake views and bots. He says it has also “really been challenging” its media agency to ensure its content is seen by humans instead of bots.
“Having ethics at the heart of our business, we want to be at the forefront of preventing situations like that happening. We’ve put in a bit more of a robust set of criteria to how we buy media in a digital space. And if we think there is any level of risk of our content being seen on unsavoury websites or places where people might have extreme views, we will stop spending money there in the short-term until we get a resolution,” he says.
In the face of all this change and adjustment, Sterry remains positive about the future and believes Innocent can become “Europe’s favourite drinks company” by staying focused on its core values.
He concludes: “We will be expanding our portfolio though innovation, be the voice of common sense and talk to humans but at scale. That is the opportunity for the brand. We will still be as relevant in five to 10 years as we are today.”