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.
Innocent, which markets itself as eco-friendly and distributes drinks in vans made to look like cows, has sold a minority stake of between 10% and 20% to Coca-Cola in order to raise funds so it can expand into Europe.
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.
Innocent joins alumni which include UK sandwich chain Pret a Manger, which sold a minority stake to McDonald's, ice-cream maker Ben & Jerry's, which sold up to Unilever, and Cadbury, which took over trendy organic chocolate company Green & Black's.
Based at Fruit Towers in West London, Innocent markets itself by running "village fetes" and the Fruitstock festival in Regent's Park and defended Coca-Cola's investment by saying it would not crush the company's ideals and eco-friendly positioning.
"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," said co-founder Richard Reed. "We'll just get to do them even more."
Reed stressed that the founders, which include two friends from Cambridge University Adam Balon and Jon Wright, were not seeing the investment as an exit strategy and that all the funds were remaining in the business to fund European expansion.
"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," he said. Innocent employs around 250 staff.
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