While at university, he made two friends, Adam Balon and Jon Wright. All three friends were working in the same industry after they graduated with their degrees, but in 1998, they decided to start a little business venture of their own. After going on a skiing trip together, they came up with an idea which they all agreed on. At a London music festival, they sold smoothies created from their own recipes. They had spent the last six months perfecting the recipes for their smoothies, and had spent £500 on fruit in order to make them. However, they didn’t just sell them to make a bit of extra cash on the side. Reed, Balon and Wright wanted to do some market research at the same time and find out whether people liked their smoothies enough to buy them on a regular basis. At the festival, they set up a bin for ‘yes’ and another for ‘no’. After their customers had finished the drink, they were asked to put the empty cups into one of the two bins. The result of this vote would decide whether the three men would quit their day jobs and focus their attention to making smoothies and starting a full-time business. By the end of the day, there were just three cups in the ‘no’ bin, whereas the ‘yes’ bin was full to the top.
After seeing how much their customers had enjoyed the smoothies, Reed and his two friends resigned from their jobs the very next day. However, it wasn’t all plain sailing straight away. At first, they couldn’t find anybody to invest in their business, which meant they couldn’t get their product onto the market. Businessman Maurice Pinto eventually invested a quarter of a million pounds into the idea, which meant that after a further nine months, they were able to properly market their product and start making sales.
Almost ten years after Innocent smoothies were first sold from a stand at the London music festival, they were included in McDonald’s Happy Meals. Bottles of the juice were given as options for customers purchasing Happy Meals in 2007 as part of a trial which would last for five years. When the trial was up in 2012, McDonald’s announced that they would not be continuing to offer Innocent drinks since the feedback from customers had overall not been very positive.
In April 2009, The Coca-Cola Company spent £30 million buying 18% of the company, leaving Richard Reed and the other two co-founders with the majority of the firm. The following year, Coca-Cola bought a further 40% of Innocent for £65 million, which meant that they now owned 58%. Three years later, in February 2013, Coca-Cola bought further shares, increasing their overall stake to 90%. This, of course, meant that the original founders were left with a very small amount of the business within their control. However, they are still on the board for the company and are able to advise on important decisions and have a say in what happens to the business they created.
The Innocent Big Knit was a campaign which was started in 2003 to raise awareness of older people who suffer during the winter as a result of cold weather and not being able to afford heating. Innocent asked people to knit tiny hats which would feature on the top of their smoothie and juice bottles. Each time one of these bottles sold with one of the hats, Innocent donated 25p to Age UK, a charity which helps elderly people. Old and young people got involved in the campaign, and Innocent have managed to raise almost £2 million for Age UK thus far. Over 6 million hats have been knitted in total.
After they sold the majority of the Innocent shares, the three founders turned their attention to some other ventures. One of these was a venture capital company, Jam Jar Investments, which they started alongside Katie Leviten and Paul Chiappe. They invested in companies such as Graze, which provides healthy and quick snacks as part of a weekly subscription, and Deliveroo, an online food ordering service which started in 2013.
Personally, Richard Reed believes that the best businesses are those which help people to live better and longer. This is perhaps why Innocent smoothies boast no artificial flavourings or sugars, and are made of 100% pure fruit. The business has always aimed to provide a healthy alternative for people who want to get a quick drink with their lunch or on the go. .
Since becoming less involved with Innocent, Richard Reed spends more time concentrating on Jam Jar Investments, where he is constantly on the lookout for fresh entrepreneurial talent which may be worthy of investment. Reed has said that he looks for ideas which might help to change the world for the better, and he looks for people who are genuinely committed to their ideas and making it work. Since he has first-hand experience of having a small idea which he needed to get investment for, Reed is able to advise young entrepreneurs about what to do, even if Jam Jar Investments will not personally invest in their business idea.