Yesterday I posted on the "reasons to be cheerful" after my trip to Fruit Towers to meet creative head honcho Dan, trying to bottle some of the innocent brand magic that he and the rest of the team have woven. Today I'm following up with some "reasons to be careful" regarding the brand's growth, and in particular the launch of This Water.
For any brand, its important to be clear on what is essential and what is optional when you grow, in particular in the area of brand extension. For innocent going forward, how do they do what Richard Reed calls "keeping the main thing the main thing"? And what is "the main thing"?
It was interesting to learn from Dan there they are looking at two main ways to grow, with separate teams looking at each of them.
Route 1: Warning! dangerous road ahead
The first route, led by Douglas, is looking at new types of HEALTHY DRINK, starting with This Water. This is the one that set my warning bells ringing, as I see it as moving away from what made the brand famous, and diverting attention from the core. After talking with Dan, I'm less concerned, though some questions remain.
First of all, you can't argue with the business opportunity. innocent, like Pepsi, Coke, Danone and every other food & drink company, are looking at the explosive growth in water. This Water is the first step to getting a share of this market. The idea would be to use this as a platform for launching other water-based drinks, such as vitamin-enhanced water and perhaps even a healthy energy drink. And as innocent stands for "nothing but nothing but fruit", Juicy Water (c. 80% water) didn't really fit and even confused some people. So, rather than force it into the brand, the decision was taken to re-launch the product under the This Water brand.
Some questions remain:
i) My biggest concern with this is diverting management attention from the core. But Dan suggested that the amount of management time was clearly limited. Douglas and his team are like an internal start-up who have to beg, steal and borrow resources. This is OK for now, but care will be needed to ensure the "new toy" doesn't steal more than its fair share of money and time. But I still worry that overall this move takes the company as a whole away from its core in fruit. After all, the HQ is called Fruit Towers, not The Fruit and Water Tower. This is especially true if the brand moves beyond fruity-water into things like vitamin-enhanced water that is not fruit-based at all.
ii) Also, the water market has some formidable competition...as Virgin found in vodka and Axe/Lynx found in razors, you need to be ready for an expensive and painful bloody nose when you do this.
iii) Finally, the pack of This Water I bought has none of Dan's magical copy on it...its very mundane, and I couldn't find a single funny line. I hope the team are not following the daft suggestion from Wolf Ollins that they should "grow up...stop relying so heavily on a brand voice which speaks to a small group of consumers". Dan did say this was start, and it will evolve over time...I'm going to start collecting This Water packs to see if this happens Dan!
Route 2: Go, go, go
The second route, led by Rosie, is "sticking to the core" and looking at how to do more with FRUIT, which feels absolutely spot on. Its reassuring to hear that this is clearly where the focus is. Some of the many growth opportunities here include:
- The Smoothies for Kids have been more successful than planned, and there is lots more to do there
- New formats like the 1 litre tetra packs
- Starting to advertise for the first time to broaden awareness, with the investment paying back several times
- Geographic expansion
- New distribution, including, yes, selling in Mc Donald's
On the last one, I don't share the concerns expressed by other innocent fans about linking up with Mickey D's. It's a great business opportunity. And it helps parents have a healthier choice for their kids. I don't think it will have a negative impact on the brand at all.
All of the above ideas stick with smoothies, and I hope that innocent keep this focus for the next few years. I can also imagine the room full of mock-ups for other products Rosie must have (but I didn't see!).... sorbet, fruit lollies, fruit bars...the list is endless. But these would again divert attention from the core business.
This was the other issue I raised in my original post. It does seem that the 3 founders (Richard, Adam and Jon) are having a lot of fun, and doing alright in terms of houses/cars/cash. And they deserve every penny. Along with the original investors, they do still own c.80% of the company, and you worry that if the cheque from Coke was big enough, it would be hard to say "no". You can see the press release now "Coke take 30% share of innocent, providing valuable funding and distribution to help us take the innocent brand global, getting our message and product into the hands of more people". After all, Ben & Jerry's and Body Shop have done it.
But I do hope they hold out for few more years. Sell the company and its hard not sell your soul. And then, the brand is in danger of losing its magic. The good thing is that innocent do allow people to take a share of the company, and this is where the other 20% of the equity is.
My suggestion? One, get employee share ownership up as fast as possible, so that the people in the company have a say in the decision on selling out, and also benefit from any eventual sale. And second, why not invite innocent fans to buy a share of the company....not sure how. Perhaps you have to send in 100 proofs of purchase, or write a funny poem, or draw a picture. But you somehow make it a "family business" in a true sense.