Innocent seal Coca-Cola deal for Euro push

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Coca-Cola will take a minority stake in UK-based smoothie group Innocent as part of an investment deal to help push the company’s interests in the European market.

The smoothie maker, which is selling a 10 to 20 per cent stake in its operations for an initial outlay of £30m, said the deal will aids its push beyond the existing 13 countries it operates in throughout Europe and the wider world.

Despite Coca-Cola’s strong US presence, the investment deal will be used by Innocent to further expand its operations in internationally.

Just last month, following growing speculation that a potential deal might be struck between the companies, a spokesperson for Innocent told that although it was searching for a minority partner, the group had no interest in expanding into the US market.

Richard Reed, one of the smoothie maker’s co-founders, said that in selling a stake to a US-based multinational like Coca-Cola, it was not just securing investment, but a stronger potential network for distribution.

“As well as providing the funds which will allow us to increase our investment in the brand both in the UK and internationally, they can help us get our products out to more people in more places,” he stated.

Ethical challenge

Innocent, which promotes itself as an ethical company through policies on fruit sourcing and the environment, has previously courted controversy after working with multinational groups like McDonald’s to trial some of its beverages at their restaurants.

While the group has grown from a fledgling business to a leading UK fruit drink brand in the last ten years - now selling an estimated two million smoothies a week – it decision to work with such companies has drawn mixed responses from consumers in the past.

Despite these multinationals’ own attempts to improve sustainability, commentators have questioned how consumers may take to the growing involvement of big business in a brand promoted as an antithesis to normal market practice.

However, Reed claimed that expansion and multinational investors would not detract Innocent from its commitments, but instead help with their expansion ambitions.

“[Coca-Cola] have been in business for over 120 years, so there will be things we can learn from them,” he stated. “In some small ways, we may be able to influence their thinking too.”

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