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Innocent Drinks has no plans to crack US as Coke swallows new stake

By Ben Bouckley+

25-Feb-2013
Last updated on 25-Feb-2013 at 13:40 GMT

'Sell outs': One Innocent Drinks' Facebook fan, David Hassall, reacts to news of the latest stake sale to Coca-Cola (Picture Copyright: Innocent)
'Sell outs': One Innocent Drinks' Facebook fan, David Hassall, reacts to news of the latest stake sale to Coca-Cola (Picture Copyright: Innocent)

Innocent Drinks tells BeverageDaily.com it will retain its current European focus and has no plans to crack to the US, as Coca-Cola moves to acquire almost all the shares it does not currently own.

The deal is subject to relevant competition approvals. As of December 2011 Coke already owned a 60% majority stake in the UK-based smoothie giant (2012 turnover: £209m).

Coke’s Innocent involvement dates back to early 2009, when the smoothie, juice and healthy food maker – which initially built brand equity upon its non-corporate ‘innocence’ – controversially sold the multinational a 20% stake for £30m ($45.4m).

‘Gutted you’ve sold your soul to devil’

Asked whether Innocent feared a consumer backlash over the latest deal, spokeswoman Annika Lewis told BeverageDaily.com: “Previous deals have shown that most consumers will either see the deal as a good thing or neutral.”

But despite some well-wishers on Innocent’s Facebook page there is also clear fan anger. Catherine Whyte writes: “Gutted you’ve sold your souls to the devil”, and Geneviève Beth Grady: “It's all about image, and nothing to do with integrity. Coca Cola will not be getting my business.”

Innocent respected the views of people who disliked the deal, Lewis said, but added that following the further stake sale, firm would retain and extend every commitment it had made to making natural, healthy food, pushing for higher standards and donating money to charity.

No plans for the US

Lewis added that Innocent currently sold products in 15 European countries, but had “no plans for the US at the moment. We’re focused on becoming Europe’s favorite juice brand.”

James Quincey, Coca-Cola group president, Europe, said that the firm’s relationship with Innocent had fuelled the business’s expansion.

 “We remain confident in the long-term growth potential of the company and the team and consider the brand values as fundamental to continued success,” he said.

Quincey added: “We are excited about the future and getting Innocent’s products to more people in more countries, with the valuable input and continued support of the founders.”

Lock, stock and three rich co-founders…

Co-founder Richard Reed told investors last week: “Myself, Adam [Balon] and Jon [Wright] are going to be stepping down from running the business on a day-to-day basis, and that leadership has been taken over by the existing management team at Innocent.”

“We’re going to remain involved, remain as shareholders, to support the team and the business in any way we can.”

Reed said that since 2009 Coca-Cola “has shown us time and time again that they are hugely supportive of Innocent and all that we stand for”.

“Ever since we did our first deal with Coca-Cola in 2009, Innocent has flourished,” Reed added.

But the firm’s latest issued UK-filed company accounts for the year ending December 31 2011 show a post-tax loss of £10.4m on a £162.6m turnover.

Innocent’s directors attributed the loss – Innocent operates as Fresh Trading Limited – to planned investments in European subsidiaries, increased NPD and brand support in core markets.