The announcement last week that Innocent were launching a trial of their kids smoothies in McDonald's seems to have provoked moral outrage. Comments on their blog are for the most part vehemently against the move: "if you jump into bed with the enemy, you're going to get screwed', "either you are stupid or you have sold out big time', "You are tarnishing what you stand for as a brand by associating yourself with a brand that stands for obesity and exploitation. Shame on you."
This is a fascinating brand story for a number of reasons.
Firstly in this era of Radical Transparency, the fact that Innocent are blogging about this and getting into a discussion with their consumers is admirable. It's interesting to see the way in which this debate is moving online - and there is a genuine sense of a debate taking place, with both sides of the argument expressing their opinions lucidly. In a post about the move, Richard one of the co-founders says that they talked to Innocent drinkers who supported the trial, however to be truly Radically Transparent maybe this debate taken place before the trial started rather than after the announcement was made.
The second reason why I think that this is such an important story is to do with environmental ethics. Richard coined the phrase Fast Moving Sustainable Goods to describe the Innocent business model, "we're not perfect but we're trying to do the right thing." Given the fact that a large proportion of the UK kid population do eat at McDonald's, is Innocent simply living up to their FMSG philosophy? If kids are there anyway, surely they should be allowed the choice between ordering a Coke or something like an Innocent Smoothie? Innocent have never said that are a charity, they are in business to make smoothies and to make money. Isn't this just another way of opening up their market and doing a bit of good to UK kids?
Finally I wonder if there is an element of Middle Class snobbery occurring? Innocent being the ultimate warm and friendly, Middle Class brand and McDonald's being the supposed antithesis. Kind of a double standard - after all it's fine for Innocent Smoothies to be stocked in Shell petrol stations, Tescos or Starbucks.
It's tricky. If I am honest I do worry that this could have a negative impact on an incredibly popular brand who have in the past said that they were against "the dubious tactics of Enron-style conglomerates."
But I admire Innocent for trying (and let's remember it is just a trial) this. It's a great example of Radical Transparency in action.
UPDATE: Email from Richard Reid, co-founder, received on Monday 7th.
Richard at innocent wrote:
Yes, it was a bit of a tough decision, in that we knew we would get a bit of a kicking from some of our drinkers, but when a company slated for selling unhealthy food asks to sell food that is good for people it seemed more irresponsible of us to say no than yes, even though I knew to some it would come across as the antithesis of innocent.
When it comes down to it, we've got to where we are today by doing what we think is right, rather than by doing what we think sounds right, if you know what I mean. And this decision was no different.
I also sought the counsel of the MD of Greenpeace, who said that over the last five years have changed from being their number one enemy to their number one global partner in reducing deforstation in the amazonian
rainforest, and if McD's wanted to sell healthy food we should definitely engage with them. A surprising input, and one which was important for us.
Over time we'll find out whether going in was the right decision or not, but irrespective of how it turns out I'll know we made the decision for the right reasons.
Plus we might now get some free cheeseburgers, which was the main factor for going for the trial.
Hope you're well and thanks for your support on the blog