That’s one more holier-than-thou eco-brand selling out to The Man: Coca Cola KO +2.00% has boosted its stake in the UK’s Innocent Drinks, which makes bottled fruit smoothies and tries to change the world in the process. It took a majority share of the company in 2010, although its founders retained operational control up until now.
Coke’s stake after the latest investment is above 90%, and the founders will step back from day-to-day management and join the company’s executive committee.
Innocent’s smoothies have been a big hit in the UK and Europe, as food and drink companies like Coca Cola are paying more attention to the market for healthy processed food. Coca Cola owns a similar line of products in the U.S., Odwalla. Growing pressure in Washington for a regulatory answer to America’s obesity crisis adds a political incentive for big food players to boost their healthy lines.
Innocent likes to let its customers know it donates 10% of profits to charity, uses only sustainably farmed ingredients, and so on. Its packaging also invites customers to drop in to its offices for a “chat” if they want to know more, including the company’s office address and a phone number.
The company joins a noble list of small businesses that built their brands as alternatives to the big, sterile corporate behemoths they were competing with, only to end up as units of those behemoths once the numbers made sense for an acquisition. Ben & Jerry’s has long been a unit of food giant Unilever ULVR.LN +0.54%, and the Body Shop is part of L'Oreal OR.FR +2.60%.
Has selling out to Coca Cola been worth it? Absolutely, said Innocent’s co-founder Richard Reed in a statement announcing the latest deal. “They have been hugely supportive of our mission of getting natural, healthy foods to more people and have been 100% committed to protecting our brand and the values it stands for.”