Belfast Telegraph

Innocent Drinks: The smoothie operator with a story to tell for Northern Ireland brands

By Rachel Martin

The creative mind behind cult brand Innocent Drinks has said he believes telling the story behind the product is the key to good food and drink marketing.

Dan Germain, the smoothie maker's head of brand and creative, said his company - now part of Coca-Cola - was a "big business with a small business mind-set".

And, in an exclusive interview with the Belfast Telegraph, he even gave Tourism NI some tips on how to brand the Year of Food and Drink 2016.

The juice tycoon was in Belfast to address a group of more than 50 business people at a conference held by commercial property agency Lambert Smith Hampton.

Mr Germain was invited to give his insights into how to improve consumer experiences in shopping centres.

He told the Belfast Telegraph that while he was in a Clements coffee shop in the city centre, a customer told him he thought Innocent was a home-grown brand when it first appeared on Northern Ireland shelves.

Mr Germain said: "If you can achieve that, then something is working in how we talk to people in their own vernacular.

"It's easy to get more corporate-sounding as you get bigger, but we wanted to avoid that."

Innocent was founded in 1999 by Cambridge University friends Adam Balon, Richard Reed and Jon Wright who decided to make juice to sell at music festivals.

Mr Germain admitted that he had not heard of the Northern Ireland Year of Food and Drink initiative, run by Tourism NI, until the morning of his talk. But he was happy to give advice on how it should be marketed.

Mr Germain said: "I'd figure out the strongest local brands with the best stories and figure out how to talk about them outside Northern Ireland as a group.

"Some countries seem to be amazing at pushing their own heritage and products, for example France and Scandinavian food also seems to be popular at the moment.

"In London, there are a lot of Scandinavian restaurants setting up, so I just think someone must be behind that drive for that type of food."

Mr Germain said he thinks as a consumer, both when he is working and buying, and explained how this shaped his marketing strategy for Innocent.

He said: "I love stories about businesses. I vote with the money in my wallet for whose story I believe, whether it's bread or cheese or drinks.

"Humans are programmed to tell stories and I'm more inclined to pass a story on to my friends; it's rare that you get excited about facts and figures."

He added: "If you just tell people you make something really good, my reaction is that everyone says that.

"But if you tell me how you make it and how hard you have tried to make it the best quality and what you've done to achieve that, other people will judge for themselves how good it is."

However, despite his marketing know-how, Mr Germain admits he does sometimes makes mistakes.

He said everything about his business was a learning curve and stressed it was important that business owners were not to be afraid to make mistakes.

He said: "You never think when you start something with your friends that it will last so long, and that you'll still be coming up with new ideas and that people will still be interested.

"We try to think independently like entrepreneurs and we try to empower our staff with the ability to do the same."

He explained how this mentality is even reflected in the company motto "think big, act small".

In the past 17 years, the company has become a giant in the market.

This year, Innocent looks set to overtake the current market leader to become the biggest chilled juice producer in Europe.

Innocent sells 102 million drinks a year in the UK, employs 400 people across Europe and has a turnover of £250m.

He said: "Ultimately, we always wanted it to represent the intentions and the noise of people behind it, so we try to keep it quite human and natural.

"I sounds quite glib, but we didn't really know what we were doing when we started it up. We did everything for ourselves - I think I've done just about every job in the company at one point.

"We've no qualms about wanting to sell as much juice as we can in as many places as we can, but also wanting to act responsibly."

p13: A bakery and a cafe prepare for Pancake Tuesday

Belfast Telegraph