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May 7, 2012 / Nick

Innocent Drinks Fruit Towers


Innocent Drinks are widely renowned as the light-hearted, sans-serif, soft-sell providers of whole fruit beverages. They practically invented that very 21st century way of whimsically branding products. Now supermarkets are filled with aisle after aisle of infantile drawings and anthropomorphic labels ‘chatting’ to shoppers: ‘Check out my ingredients’ say the bags of crisps; ‘Recycle me’ say the drinks cans; ‘Pop me inside you’ say the tampons. It’s all natter natter natter.

While supping on a smoothie and idly reading the childish scribblings on the side of the bottle (including ‘please keep me chilled’ and ‘shake it up baby’), I noticed that the product label has an unusual proposition.

‘Pop into Fruit Towers’. Now, lots of food labels have phrases like ‘we’d love to hear from you’ or ‘send us your suggestions’ but I tend to assume that most correspondence from the public gets filed under ‘recycling’. This is the first time I’ve seen an open invitation to a company’s HQ.

Surely Innocent don’t *really* want me to just ‘pop in’.

So last week, I went to find out.

Bringing a friend with me as both a moral support and awkwardness buffer (the Pippin to my Auntie Mabel), we ventured to the offices in North Kensington to see just how open this invitation really is. Fruit Towers is a modern five-storey building on Ladbroke Grove. It doesn’t give off the impression that it might be home to a multi-million pound drinks empire.

Entering the building’s reception, there was the buzz of recently completed lunch breaks as staff headed upstairs from the ground floor dining area.
“Hello?” said the lady on the front desk while prodding at an Innocent Veg Pot.
“Hello. Erm…the bottle said we can pop in to Fruit Towers” I began. “So…err…here we are”.

At this point, I was expecting to be laughed out the building. I envisaged a burly security man hoisting me out by the collar and saying ‘We don’t actually mean it, you fool. What kind of place do you think this is? We’re busy people’.
Instead, our greeter, who introduced herself as Janel, simply grinned and said “Aaaah, you’re here for the tour. Give me a sec and I’ll get someone to show you around. Jot your name down on a tag”.

I’m glad Janel knew why I was there, because I didn’t. I think it would have been a bit tense if there was nothing other than a ‘hello’ to be gained from taking up their invitation.

“Help yourself to some smoothies” she said. By the entrance are two fridges containing smoothies and juices (I helped myself to a Strawberry and Banana smoothie).

Janel was approaching all who passed by to see if they were free for a tour. Before long we were introduced to a cheery German bloke named Bastian who showed us around.

Janel (hidden behind monitor) and Bastian

There was a large open-plan kitchen/dining/table tennis playing area.

A wall of baby photos.

A screen that was linked to supply chain data showing how much fruit and veg the company has provided to Brits throughout the day so far.

And the kitchen where new products and recipes are tested as well as taste-tests of competitor’s beverages.

The office is remarkably ‘people-centric’. Even boring things like profit maximisation strategies is softened down to a board of sticky notes where each individual staff member shows how they are helping to lower costs/increase revenue (Lots of practical commercial strategies, plus one person who was ‘saving water by doing poos at home’).

This surprisingly in-depth tour also included a journey through the company’s history via a photographic timeline on the wall of the stairwell.

I went from knowing next to nothing about Innocent to virtually making it my specialist subject for Mastermind.

I was beginning to wonder if, with all the table tennis and free tours going on, people did any work. But I managed to see a full floor of people busily getting on with the nuts and bolts of keeping the company running. Even Bastian, who had kindly given up 15 minutes of his afternoon, had to get back to the main part of his day job – overseeing the supply chain (he elaborated on the challenges of balancing the stock level of Indian mangos).

Before leaving, we got some more smoothies for the road and we spotted their visitors wish list of esteemed names they’d like to meet (plus Peter Andre).

So deciding on a whim to accept an invitation from the side of a drink bottle led to quite a pleasant trip behind the scenes of one of the UK’s biggest brands. My doubtful cynicism towards marketing ‘niceness’ was probably a bit unfair.

It’s an unlikely tourist destination, but is a very personable way of showing off a business and I for one would like to see if any other big companies do the same.
Wondering just what kind of human beings are behind the existence of WKD has been keeping me up at night for far too long.

Review: Unexpectedly inviting.
7/10

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17 Comments

Leave a Comment
  1. Alice / Jul 3 2012 11:40 am

    The owners of Torquay are friends of my mothers. Not that friendly and they are big show offs

  2. Andrew / Jul 3 2012 1:19 pm

    Enjoyed this! On the cartons here it says you can call them and ask them about football or dating etc. You could do that in the next article…

  3. Carla / Jan 3 2013 2:55 pm

    Haha brilliant! Saw a link to this on Twitter – a friend and I used to distract ourselves from our uni coursework in the earlier days of Innocent by calling the banana phone – they were always very lovely!

  4. Jess / Jan 3 2013 3:19 pm

    I like this. I’m going to go.

    As a new project… fancy visiting every creative agency offering you a cup of tea?

    http://agenciesofferingcupsoftea.tumblr.com/

    • Joan Bloggs / Jan 3 2013 6:10 pm

      That would be an amazing project! You should do it and blog about it.

      Loving this post on Innocent too.

  5. Beth Kemp / Jan 3 2013 4:15 pm

    So cool that their reaction was exactly what the invitation implied! I’d have expected awkwardness too (and therefore wouldn’t have actually taken the plunge and gone – good on you!)

  6. Chris / Jan 3 2013 4:18 pm

    I’m so pleased you did this! I have always wanted to take them up on their offer! Thanks for journalling your experience and do let us know if you intend to give them a ring. I’l try and think of some cunning and hilarious joke about fruit which you can share with them!

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