Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Is there a future for "different" companies ?

This week, innocent drinks (that's right, its written with a small i), sold a minority stake to Coca Cola. Is this another instance of a "different" company succumbing to the mainstream ?

innocent is a 1o year old company based in the UK. It was started by three guys who gave up their jobs to start making smoothies. In their own words - "We've always found that there's something about modern living that makes it hard to be healthy. That's why we gave up our jobs over ten years ago and started making innocent smoothies. The idea was to make it easy for people to do themselves some good. And to make it taste nice too. We wanted people to think of innocent drinks as their one healthy habit".

In the process they created a company with a difference. They have 5 icons for their ethics -

As part of "sharing the profits" they donate 10% of their profits each year to charity through their innocent foundation. One of its works is to plant 86000 trees in India to benefit rural communities.

Same old problem. They have grown very nicely in the UK. They need to expand into Europe. They need capital. Step forward Coca Cola. The delicious irony seems to have been lost - they started the company motivated by healthy living and who do they go and sell their minority stake to ? They are putting a brave face now saying its only a minority stake they are selling and that the founders will still run the company and they are still committed to their ideals. Well Well ...

Something similar happened to Green & Black's, an ethical chocolate maker who sold a minority stake to Cadbury's in 2002 and three years later they became a 100% subsidiary.

In 2000, Ben & Jerry's, a famous ice cream company in Vermont, with a similar ethical philosophy, sold out to Unilever. Even Body Shop went to L'Oreal.

Is there no future for companies with a difference ? Companies who do not subscribe ONLY to maximising shareholder value. Not to say that that's not important, but does it need to be the only objective. Maybe, capitalism does not allow the survival of "different" companies - after all Darwin's theory of survival of the fittest applies equally to the business world.

Somehow, I think, the world is poorer for the absence of these companies. What do you think ?


le embrouille blogueur said...

I could not agree more.Commercialism rules over uniqueness and walks all over it with a flag of popularity. And survival becomes tough for those that dared to think "different".Good post.

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