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Innocent Drinks: Richard Reed

As Innocent Drinks approaches the £100m mark, its founder Richard Reed talks ethics, products and staff retention

Innocent Drinks has come of age. It’s hard to detect. After all, the founding values remain intact. The founders remain in charge. The products are largely the same. Yet one of the UK’s most feted brands has and is facing a series of challenges.

Innocent has left behind its start-up existence. The workforce is 187-strong, it has 65% of its domestic market, and a layer of senior management, including a UK MD, has been woven into the business’ close-knit fabric in recent months.

More than that, turnover is set to punch through £100m and Europe is thirsty for more as the business enters its 10th year. In many ways, the world has changed around Innocent. Its humble start-up story (involving ‘yes’ and ‘no’ bins at a festival), its puritanical approach to product and its company ethics and values have been imitated beyond flattery.

The snipers have gathered and sniped, sneering that the founders’ reported £120,000-a-year salaries are not so innocent. And the Midas touch has not been present in every pursuit, notably a debut on the BBC’s Watchdog last month when called to account over exploding smoothies.

Internally, too, everything is writ frighteningly large: recruitment, retention, discipline, expansion. Each one poses its own set of questions. Founders Richard Reed, Jon Wright and Adam Balon have their work cut out. And they couldn’t be more excited… if perhaps a little scared. Like the products, that would only be natural.

The responsibility to maintain and accelerate momentum is apparent in all Reed says. Innocent Drinks has numerous stated aims, all simply put but highly ambitious. One – to become the world’s most sustainable company – is laudable, but surely impossible to measure. Whether it is or not is up for discussion.

Challenge: installing values

What isn’t is Reed’s fervour for achieving the plaudit. “We’re a long way from it, man,” he admits. “Don’t get me wrong, we’re better at it than other companies. We punch above our weight – abso-fucking-lutely. But it’s no time for champagne.”

In practice, the Innocent ethos – penned by Reed, Wright, Balon and 45 staff in 2003, and now further developed and driven by Richard Reed’s ‘Sustainability Squad’ – is built around indelible principles: procuring ethically, reducing and offsetting carbon emissions, recycling and putting something back through charitable giving.

Its fruit suppliers have to meet minimum International Labour Organisation standards and premium rates are paid to Rainforest Alliance-accredited or local farms. Electricity comes from green renewable sources. Fleet vehicles are powered either by bio fuels, LPG or hybrid. CO2 emissions are measured each month and are offset by 120% to be carbon negative across the business.

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