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Last Updated: Sunday, 12 June 2005, 16:50 GMT 17:50 UK
Green, but not so innocent
Richard Reed
Richard Reed graduated from Cambridge, headed off to do some advertising work then set about looking into the drinks industry with two fellow graduates.

After six months the trio launched their fruit smoothies at a UK music festival where they relied on the public to tell them whether to resign and go into business.

The festival-goers gave a resounding thumbs up to the drinks and the next day the three quit to found Innocent.

What was your first job?

When I was four I started cleaning neighbours' windows for money. My mum's got the pictures to prove it.

I had a paper round, and I used to sell Smurf stickers. There was a shop near my nan's house that sold them for 3p and I sold them onto friends in school for 15p.

Coal miner
I wanted to be a coal miner. I must have been about four at the time of the coal miners' strike and I remember hearing that they got paid over 100 a week. I thought: 'Oh my God, that's so much. I wouldn't be able to spend it all. I could have all I could possibly hope to have.'

I suppose my first paid job would be a summer job I had working in a dog biscuit factory. I had to get on my hands and knees under the conveyor belt and pick up any loose biscuits.

I thought it'd be so much easier if the biscuits were brushed up, so one day I asked whether they had a brush. The foreman looked me in the eyes and told me: "Son, you are the brush."

I got 2 an hour for that, and thought I could do better, so I set up my own company, Two Men Went To Mow, mowing lawns and tidying gardens for 2.50 an hour. Then I employed a mate and we spent the summer doing that.

Who is your biggest inspiration?

It's a toss up between my mum and dad and a woman I met recently.

I met her in Goa and she had a vision of what she wanted to do. Her dream had been to leave Switzerland where she lived and open a shack cafe on a deserted beach where she would cook during the day, then throw off her sarong at the end of the day and go for a swim in the sea.

Beach in Goa
Richard met a source of inspiration in Goa
She cooked gorgeous quiches that were ridiculously cheap, and at 4 o'clock, she'd be off for a swim.

I still have an image of her dropping her sarong and heading into the water as the sun went down on one of the most beautiful beaches.

Most of us have got 80 years to go through and most of us don't dare to dream or chase our dreams. But she was doing just that.

What's the best bit of business advice you've had?

Understand what your materials are.

We're a new company and we set out saying we're about purity, health and quality, and that we would leave the world a bit better than it was when we arrived.

I don't have a car, I either walk to work or bike it, and that builds a bit of exercise into each day. I definitely prefer to walk - not that I'm some kind of ecowarrior - but if I head into central London on a weekend, its a great walk through Shepherd's Bush, Hyde Park and Kensington.

When we set up, everyone said we couldn't make our drinks the way we wanted. We were told to make it from concentrates. By the time the sixth person tells you that you begin to wonder whether it will work.

But we stuck to the belief of natural and healthy products that hadn't been adulterated.

If we'd used concentrates we could have launched six months earlier, but the product wouldn't have been as good. Although it is much more profitable and easier, that is putting business systems and profit before people, and business relies on people.

What's the biggest challenge facing business now?

Business needs to be fully sustainable and close the loop with the materials taken from the earth - unless we get renewable materials we're going to run out.

I've gone from a pessimist to an optimist, and believe that within capitalism lies the solution. If you pollute you pay.

I'd sit down and work out how to make it better next time. Go off sit on the beach, watch the waves and come back and have another go. I'd probably get really drunk as well

It also says much for consumer power - enlightened consumers will spend with companies they've researched and realised they're doing things the right way.

My goal is a fully sustainable business. It is possible but very hard to deliver, but that's what's going to save the planet.

I'm trying to do it myself but I'm just one person - a six billionth of all the people who could be doing it. People know what's going on they've just got to choose whether they want to make a difference.

What issue in business is grabbing your interest right now?

There are two - big business and small business.

General Electric has just put $1.5bn into its Ecocentric lab to develop technology to improve efficiency such as improving wind, water and solar energy. That's tremendously exciting.

And on the small business front it's Leon, a single food outlet that's just opened. It's an all-seasons, all-natural, healthy, fresh and delicious non-preachy place that delivers food like fast food and is in touch with nature the same way we are.

I get really excited about big business ultimately creating more money and people getting rich from saving the world.

What was the proudest moment of your career?

Being in the office stationary cupboard - in the early days it was our executive office, the only place where you could be confidential.

I was offering a woman who'd temped with us for a while a role at the firm.

It wasn't like it was the first job I'd offered someone or anything like that, she just seemed so happy to get the job it made me feel nice and I left the "office" with a big smile on my face.

What do you have on your desk?

Austrian parachuter Felix Baumgartner ready to base-jump from statue of Jesus in Rio
Life on the edge keeps you thinking, Richard believes
My favourite thing is a patchwork tapestry off a woman customer from Devon with the Innocent logos on it - she sent it in as she enjoyed our drinks so much.

Among all the other stuff there's a photo of a man base-jumping off the statue of Jesus in Rio to remind me to take risks, and another daft picture of a poodle made from cauliflower.

My sister also sent me a quote which is on there - she's a real earth mother - it says: "The challenge is to be yourself in a world that is trying to make you like everyone else."

What's the best part of your job?

The best part is either the people I work with or my actual favourite thing is being in the kitchen trying new flavours and so on.

The worst is unblocking the men's toilets, it seems to block up sometimes for no reason, and I'm not comfortable with telling anyone to unblock it.

What problem do you face on a daily basis?

The main thing is getting the right people to join us who share the same set of values and have the right talents and skills.

Short termism - people are too interested in making a quick buck and don't think about the consequences. It's a "not on my watch" mentality - I may be screwing things up but not for me. It's the innocent victims who follow.

It's usually an either/or situation. People are easy to find but its finding the ones with the right experience, aptitude and attitude.

We get 300 applications a week, but really we're looking for someone who'd be extra-special.

That doesn't mean they've had to go to university. We want people who are driven, honourable, naturally themselves, sharp, full of energy.

I think we can be better if we genuinely are looking after our drinkers better.

What couldn't you live without?

Nature, and I mean that in every sense of it. I have to get out of town once in a while and look at waves, climb mountains or go mountain biking.

Keith Richards
Keith Richards about 30 years ago, I bet he had a pretty good time. There's a certain appeal. I get the impression that he definitely did it properly and I admire anyone who does it properly- even if it is severe hard drinking and womanising. And I do like the hedonistic side of life.

I love India, it has a total sense of humanity, something you've never experienced in England.

There are a billion people there, people working, moving around all the time; and there's something so spiritual about the place it's like no country I've ever been to before.

But I don't have to go anywhere fancy. Every year for the past 28 years I've visited the Yorkshire Dales. There's a little cottage there that my family visited when I was younger and I loved it, feeding the cows and everything. Now it's come to be part of my make up.

Is there too much red tape in business?

I don't think there's too much. I think we're working and running one of the most unregulated economies and an amazingly liberal economy.

Of all the issues that affect business, red tape is about 1%. Ultimately it's not a factor, but that's easy for me to say as we've not had a bad experience yet.

I don't have any regrets. I've goofed up loads, but they've been honest mistakes.

As long as you're honest and share your learning from it you'll have learned something new.

Most legislation is good, right and proper, we should be enforcing it, coming down harder on those who deliberately flaunt the law and celebrate those who abide by it.

We should also be concentrating on areas like environmental degradation.

For example, look at Ray Anderson's book Interface and the film The Corporation: they bring up the issue of sustainability and suggest putting a tax on oil that reflects its "true cost".

If you put a tax on oil you could reduce income tax. That in turn would stimulate people to look into better value energy sources and people would vote with their wallets.

Where do you see yourself in five years' time?

Just selling more healthy drinks from more sustainable business model. I don't think we'll be done here in five years time. We have a lot to do.

Innocent logo

Innocent was founded in 1999 by Richard, Adam Balon and Jon Wright.

The group now employs 43 people and sells over 400,000 smoothies a week in the UK, Ireland and Continental Europe.

The group has grown to become the UK's number one smoothie brand and has a turnover of 15m.


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