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Building a best-selling product by being close to customer thinking

A slow-food company with a 75-percent share of the UK smoothie market

[Innocent Drinks] Kensington and Chelsea, London, UK

When its founders began Innocent Drinks 13 years ago, the first thing they were thinking about was how they could establish communications with customers. Today many companies are aware of this, but at the time it was quite a novel way of thinking—and Innocent Drinks has had 13 years to build on its original idea. It wasn’t simply the desire to become a “good brand,” but to build the concept that, “there is no doubt that this is a good brand.”

When the company moved into its current offices one year ago, a new development was the creation of the Wall of Love, set near the entrance area. This is a large board where messages, presents, photos from company tours and other items received from customers are displayed. These arrive at the company all the time; one young boy actually came to the office to present a book he had made himself containing his thoughts about Innocent Drinks. A great many requests have come from customers who want to see the offices, so now tours have been arranged. Some 30 employees are responsible for the tours, with the person leading a tour the one who finds him or herself free at the time. These employees are not from any particular division or team; anyone can be a leader after receiving training in the correct tour route and the spoken content for the tours.

There are other opportunities for direct connection with consumers, such as an open day held once each year in which 50 people are selected by a drawing. This is a chance for all the employees and the customers to relax and get to meet each other. The company has an “open and natural” policy, something that is very apparent in the planning and design of the offices. When the current building was acquired, the first and second floors were completely separate; the company created one open space when the first-floor chill-out room was being built by knocking through into the second-floor meeting space.

The chill-out room is covered by artificial turf with a number of natural plants set in the area; it’s a multipurpose room where employees can meet with outside partners or hold internal meetings with other employees; right next to them others may well be playing table tennis or board games. There is even an open kitchen in the area where cereal, bread and other breakfast foods are provided free of charge, and where employees can make their own favorite foods. Because you can look out over the area from the second-floor meeting space, there is a very open feeling.


In 2011, Innocent Drinks moved their offices from Hammersmith to the Kensington and Chelsea borough of London.

Founded: 1999
2010 sales: more than £200 million
Employees: approximately 250
Sales area: in 15 countries, particularly in Europe
http://www.innocentdrinks.co.uk


The Wall of Love, at the entrance to the chill-out room. Notes, thank-you messages, photos and other materials received from customers are posted here.

  • All the floors are covered in artificial turf.

  • The kitchen is a place for exchange among employees, as well as a location for recipe development, tastings and other activities.

  • The largest meeting room in the Innocent Drink offices. The casual atmosphere can be seen from the outside.

  • The display on the stairway, tracing the company from its founding in 1999 to today along a path from the first to the sixth floor.

The boy who brought in the handmade book had also previously brought in a design for alphabet magnets. One of the employees who saw this in turn created a new smoothie aimed at children, a product that has become very popular. The company has another policy that, “Any idea is a good idea,” so even the smallest proposals are respected. For any project, the company approach is to believe that 70 percent will make it, so employees should go ahead and get it out without waiting for 100-percent completion. If you stop and wait at the 70-percent point for the last 30 percent, they say, you’ll miss your timing, lose your connection with those who otherwise will work with you, and therefore lose major opportunities. The case of the young boy was not unusual, so they actively gather the many different ideas that come from customers.

One of the ideas is the Big Knit, hand-knitted caps customers created to sit atop Innocent drink bottles, which is now a major charity project. Started six years ago, each year many new and unique ideas come in. To preserve the close relationship with customers, there is a special job position responsible for immediate response to letters or Facebook and Twitter postings. These are also displayed on a projector in the chill-out room, so that all employees can see what is happening.

The actions taken by the employees who receive consumer ideas are also natural and spontaneous. Each of the third to the sixth floors, where employee desks are located, has quite a different feeling. People who prefer quieter workspaces choose the upper floors, while those who like to be surrounded by their friends choose other floors. The seats aren’t decided by work functions, which are scattered across the floors. The 160 current employees here bring different kinds of energy, as all of them work together to create an environment where they can work happily and to maintain a culture where consumer ideas can be brought to reality.

Prize-winning submissions for the annual Big Knit event are displayed in the elevator hall. The company receives hand-knitted caps for the product bottle, with superior products se- lected for prizes. Each year the company receives some 20,000 entries.

The first-floor chill-out room, used for everything from meetings to welcoming customers to the company—as well as a place to literally chill out.

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The first-floor chill-out room, used for everything from meetings to welcoming customers to the company—as well as a place to literally chill out.

Innocent Drink’s corporate culture is one of the reasons why over the past 13 years it has grown to become the UK’s top smoothie manufacturer. To maintain that culture, the company continues to make great efforts in the employment and ongoing training of its staff. For example, the company is known for an unusually long employment interview process. The company has established important standard examination criteria to ensure that employees are in agreement with its values.

The company’s five values are: a commercial way of thinking, tolerance, being natural, an entrepreneurial spirit, and responsibility. A basic condition of employment is agreement with all of them. In the sixth month after entering the company, it’s the employee’s responsibility to take part in the Innocent Academy, an overnight training session. In a location away from the office, additional skills are taught during the course. After this, personal development, time management and other workshops and short courses that go beyond the team are held as necessary. More than being an obligation, these are the optimal way to encourage and develop the potential of Innocent Drinks employees. Because employees possess a wide range of knowledge, most training is by the employees themselves, rather than inviting in instructors from outside the company.

How to apply today’s culture to further expand the company and its scale of business is a major challenge for the future.

From WORKSIGHT 02(2012.6)

Photos of the employees as children, mounted on the chill-out room wall.

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