Tuesday, February 28, 2023


Timmy Ryan’s weekly column for the Waterford News & Star


I’M not one for exhibitions at the best of times. Having attended a few trade shows and the like, I find them interesting and dull in equal measure. In Birmingham recently, I attended a packaging conference where companies were exhibiting all kinds of boxes, tubes, cartons and bottles for any number of new and existing products.

I find it tiring rambling about places like the NEC, fine venues though they are. It’s a famed concert mecca and I noticed a poster advertising an upcoming Peter Gabriel gig, which I made a mental note of.

We walked the aisles of stands and around one corner we happened upon the exhibition stage.  While there was a seated group, you could happily stand at the back and if you lost interest you could just move away quietly. A talk had just started by a chap from the Innocent Smoothie drinks company. I’m familiar with the brand but I honestly can’t recall actually purchasing any of the products. I figured I’d give him a minute or two and it was a welcome breather at the very least.


‘I was blown away by this. How fantastic. Not just a wonderful bit of thinking outside the box, pardon the pun, but a company demonstrating it had heart and soul and actually cared’


As he explained the history of the company, its goals and ethos I found him highly engaging.  Innocent was formed by three friends back in 1999 who brought their drinks made from fruit to a festival and received a hugely favourable reaction. So much so that they quit their jobs and set up a new company. Their aim initially was to make delicious, healthy drinks while helping the planet. As time went on, they elevated their ambitions and did things like give 10% of their profits to charity.  One of their sayings is, “We might make little drinks, but we have big dreams to make the world a better, healthier place to live.” They are also the people, by the way, who put the little knitted hats on the smoothie bottles in the winter. All the hats are knitted by volunteers and all the profits from the hats go to charities that help the aged. This collaboration has been highly successful.

I was struck by how passionate the speaker was about his job, how he loved working for Innocent and, notably, how well they seem to look after their staff. The word trust was mentioned and this was especially important during the pandemic when the company trusted their employees to make their own decisions with regards to remote working or continuing to work at Fruit Towers as it is known.

There was one aspect that really impressed me about the way these guys operate and apparently they have never gone out of their way on social media platforms to highlight this particular story. Some time ago Innocent wanted to freshen up their packaging and decided to go with a new design for the lunchbox smoothie carton that sits on many supermarket shelves. It looked cool and they were happy with the new direction but then something unexpected happened.  They received a small number of calls and emails from distressed parents of children with autism stating that the new packaging had caused major issues. These children loved Innocent Smoothies, but didn’t understand why it had changed. For some it was the only thing they would ingest and this presented a nightmare for them. In total it was about 20 families that were affected.

The response from Innocent staggered me when our speaker duly explained what the company did next. Write nice letters to the parents offering their sympathy? Explain that while unfortunate to see this unfold, there was nothing sadly they could do about the children’s plight?  Not at all. Without fanfare or a media campaign to win hearts and minds, Innocent decided act. The first thing they did was look for places where product in the old packaging was still being sold. They recalled all of the stock they could and sent it to the 20 families so that they had product while Innocent figured out what to do next. They then put a small team of people onto this to figure it out. After contemplation amongst the team that the few were not unimportant against the many, they came up with a plan.

They developed a children’s storybook, which was about a Smoothie Carton wanting to get a new set of clothes. The storybook idea had different illustration options for the carton’s fronts that kids could insert at will and play around with while enjoying some fun at the same time. At the end of the book the children were presented with the new packaging and how happy the Smoothie was in it.  The book cleverly explained that while the outside had changed, inside was just the same delicious taste the children knew and loved anyway.

I was blown away by this. How fantastic. Not just a wonderful bit of thinking outside the box, pardon the pun, but a company demonstrating it had heart and soul and actually cared. Let’s face it, for a company the size of Innocent Smoothies losing 20 families as customers wouldn’t have been that big a deal and the cost of doing this far outweighed the gains.

This unusual innovation would perhaps have gone entirely unnoticed media wise had it not been for one of the overjoyed parents who benefited. She had posted something about it online. Proper order. It deserves to be highlighted surely. That the initiative cost Innocent is not in doubt. They were aware that it was financially unfeasible but they knew this wasn’t about financial viability, it was about doing the right thing. The situation was about so much more than profit and loss. They were determined that their values mattered.

The gentleman finished his slot shortly after and received generous applause and rightly so. I was so glad I hadn’t walked on by and missed the story. It was fascinating and very thought provoking.

I can’t imagine there are many companies that would ever go down this road. That great fictional confectionary tycoon, Willy Wonka uttered these words from the great Bard and they seem perfectly appropriate: “So shines a good deed in a weary world” – William Shakespeare.


By Timmy Ryan

Broadcaster and liquorist

By Timmy Ryan
Contact Newsdesk: 051 874951

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