Book Review – Innocent, our story & somethings we’ve learned.


I have read a couple of business biographies and this is one of the most enjoyable ones. Written by the founders of the healthy food company, Innocent, it is all about the business,how it started, grew and what it stands for. And no, you won’t learn about their mum, dad, how much sport they played or their dog called Andy. More to the point this book is all about Innocent as a business and perhaps you will learn one or two lessons about starting a business. If I were to recommend books about learning to start a business, this one would definitely make the list. The book itself is an easy one to read because it is very attractive and easy on the eyes, littered with very interesting images and pictures. Also it’s not a bulky book with just 201 pages. It is structured into ten chapters, each one focusing on a key aspect of the company. I checked Amazon uk for views about the book. After 25 reviews it had a 4.5 rating, not bad. Some criticism aimed at the book is it does not contain enough details about the operations of the business. Others also felt the book was just a marketing spin. But all that in no way takes away from the quality of the book.

Following is a review of each chapter in the book.

Chapter One – What’s the big idea? How does a business start? Where do business ideas  come from? Those are the kind of questions answered in this chapter, offcourse from Innocent’s perspective. How Innocent started and how the company came about the idea is what this chapter focuses on. The authors give some simple advice about business ideas which are:

  • Follow the need – look for areas where you can identify a problem you can solve.
  • Know your audience – the most important aspect of setting up a business is understadning your audience.
  • Better, not different – your idea does not need to be revolutionary, but it should be better in some way than what already exists.
  • Clear and simple –  the idea should be clear and simple for others to understand.
  • Keep the main thing the main thing – once you are clear about your idea align your actions to getting the business of the ground. Don’t lose sight of what you want to achieve.

Chapter Two – Start Small, But Do Start: Every successful business has one thing in common, they started and they started small. The authors quote that, “every business in the world started small. M&S began life as a market stall.” And here is their advice to those who may want to start something: “start small, but do get started, There’s nothing like taking the first step to help you get over the initial fear and inertia that surrounds creating your own venture.”

You will learn quite a bit about Innocent in this chapter from how they actually started the company, how they launch new ventures by starting small and some people key to the company. The founders also outline how and why they decided to quit their full time jobs to concentrate entirely on the company. Not that they recommend this approach, but one thing they do state with clarity is that, the main difference between those people who are successful and those who aren’t, is that successful people are the ones who actually get going.”

Chapter Three – Keep On Keepin’ On: Starting small may sound simple but you can soon get discouraged when your idea isn’t working out or you run out of money. What do you do when you run into discouraging times like this, should you quit? The guys at Innocent suggest that as far as you believe in your idea and you tested it to be viable, keep on going, don’t give up. This advice is based on experience, when the authors kept being turned down by banks and potential investors and told what they want to do is impossible. Even bigger, more established companies didn’t believe what they wanted to  do was possible. Well they kept at it and eventually found someone who helped them start and another individual who invested in them. If they had given up this would never have happened.

Chapter Four – Coping With Growth: This chapter is about the next stage on from starting up, having a strategy for growth and maintaining it. For instance in manufacturing, making decisons about whether to outsource or do it themselves and knowing how best to source fruit. They also emphasize the importance of doing less, but doing it better. For instance they made the decison to focus on first getting their smoothies into as many countries as possible instead of trying to launch a lot of products simulteaneously. Another important factor which helps growth which they highlighted is having access to adequate cash.

Chapter Five – Know What You Care About: This chapter is about the soft stuff in organisations but nonetheless very important and pivotal to Innocent as a company. Innocent believes in having a clear sense of purpose, and theirs is to, “make food good” and they maintain it still is. The company also believes in having values that guide the business and they quote that, decent values prevent businesses, in their pursuit of profit, from behaving like idiots. Innocent has five values which are:

  1. Natural: Ensuring the products they make are 100% natural. It is their most important value.
  2. Entrepreneurial: Innocent is an independent company set up from scratch and they want to continue to be entrepreneurial.
  3. Responsible: The company wants to leave things a bit better than they met them. That’s why they try to run their business in an environmentally friendly way.
  4. Commercial: Innocent is a business and is about growth and profit.
  5. Generous: Innocent wants to be an overall generous company. Generous in all they do whether it’s giving feedback, supporting people or compensating employees.

Chapter Six – It’s All About The People: The aspect of innocent discussed in this chapter is common to all organisations, getting the right people on board. They answer three questions:

  1. How you get the right team of people.
  2. How you get people on board and keep them.
  3. Being clear about the type of people you are looking for.

In searching for people there are three things they look out for:

  1. Do they share the company’s values?
  2. Do they have the capabilities to do well in the business?
  3. The experience they bring, particularly in senior roles.

So what are their principles about keeping people. There are a couple of things they have in place which are:

  • Making sure people are clear about what is expected of them.
  • Give honest and quick feedback.
  • Measure performance.
  • Provide opportunities to learn.
  • Share the proceed (profits).
  • Keep communicating.
  • Do the soft stuff, such as providing breakfast, giving scholarships and healthcare plans.

Chapter Seven – Now That’s What We Call marketing: Innocent has some great marketing ideas, and they call their approach a low cost approach to marketing. Here are their recommendations:

  1. It starts out with making sure Innocent delivers on what they have promised.
  2. Then choose the right brand name. In the earlier days innocent had no money to advertise so choosing a good and memorable name was crucial. They went through 29 different names before settling on Innocent.
  3. Look good too. Product packaging is important. Innocent says that packaging sells your product the first time, whereas the taste/experience sells it the next hundred times.
  4. They also believe in being seen in the right places. For instance get into the right shops, the shops that people go to.
  5. Also not forgetting the papers. For them getting into the papers was a good strategy and they did it cheaply too the first time by being interviewed as entrepreneurs for the Evening Standard.
  6. And the marketing must be for this century? Go digital. Being on the web, writing a newsletter, getting on YouTube, Flickr, Facebook and Twitter was crucial for the company.
  7. Finally advertise. Innocent didn’t do that till their sixth year in business. They wrote their first ad themselves and got a friend to film it in a park not far from their office.

Chapter Eight – Take Care of The Details: For Innocent small details mean a lot in business especially when you have to compete with more deep pocketed competitors. Small details such as having a friendly tone in the way they communicate, quirky but attractive labeling of their products, decorated vans that really stand out and offices which really don’t look conventional help define Innocent as a unique brand. Some of these small details even extend to their retailers. Doing things such as providing Innocent branded gloves to people who stack Innocent shelves in stores, hiding chocolate money in Innocent food cases during christmas and working in a supermarket to see what it is like and then pimping up a staff room are the sort of stuff you might find Innocent doing with their retailers. All these small details of course add to the strength of their brand.

Chapter Nine – Make Money And…. : At the end of the day Innocent is a business and they do want to make profit, but the company aims to make profit and  at the same time leave a legacy. To do that they have a five-point plan.

  1. Make it healthy – only make food that is genuinely healthy for people.
  2. Use responsibile ingredients – source food ingredients in the most responsible way.
  3. Develop sustainable package – work on developing environmentally conscious packaging.
  4. Become a resource-efficient business – run innocent in a way that is resource-efficient. Reduce carbon footprint by using green electricity to power their offices and changing the way they stack pallets in their warehouse.
  5. Share the profits – Innocent gives 10 per cent of their profits to charity, and as their profits have increased so has their giving.

Some of the projects that Innocent supports are:

  • Find your feet – India
  • FARM Africa – Southern Sudan
  • Practical Action – Bangladesh
  • War on want – Brazil
  • Kaloko Trust – Zambia
  • CARE International – Ecuador

Chapter Ten – Listen Up, Open Up: This chapter is all about the different ways that Innocent connects to her customers. Innocent’s officies are open to visitors. They also make use of social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Off course they have a website and newsletter. But one of the most creative ways they use to connect with their customers are through festivals. It started out with Fruitstock, an annual musical festival in Regents park. In 2006 they had 150,000 people, way too big. So they started the innocent village fete. A much smaller event with various activities such as live music, ballroom dancing, the innocent kissing parlour and a poetry cafe.

This has been one of my most enjoyable biographies. Simple to read and colourful. You can also learn a few things about business from it, especially marketing.

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