Big corporations are getting in on the ethical act, so to speak, by creeping into the companies
with the best reps by the backdoor. Is this a sign that they realisethe times are changing, or are they just trying to usurp the competition from the inside out?
The founders of Innocent, the ethically aware smoothie business that yesterday sold a stake of between 10% and 20% to the US drinks groupCoca-Cola for £30m, are adamant that their ideals and eco-friendly sentiments will not be crushed as a result of striking a deal with a company best known for its less than healthy fizzy drinks.
Innocent joins a long line of companies that have started small and built a loyal following on the back of a values-led approach, only to sell up to the kind of businesses against which they might once have defined themselves.
Ice-cream maker Ben & Jerry's, once known for its counter-cultural roots, was one of the first to sell up to a corporation, when it was bought for £175m by the consumer goods group Unilever in 2000. Four years later it admitted in its social audit: "We are beginning to look like the rest of corporate America." British sandwich chain Pret a Manger offloaded a minority stake to the fast food group McDonald's in 2001 and last year sold the whole business to private equity group Bridgepoint. The Body Shop - whose late founder, Dame Anita Roddick, had often railed against the big corporations running the beauty business - sold to the French cosmetics group L'Oréal in 2006.
Sams advised Coca-Cola not to stamp its name over the Innocent product range or to combine its acquisition with its US smoothie brand, Odwalla.
Reed said there was little danger of Coca-Cola meddling with the Innocent brand. "They absolutely buy into the brand, the people, the system, it's a minority investment in Innocent, which is staying as a standalone company."
We just love the look of your ethics ...
Green & Black's - Cadbury Schweppes
Set up in 1991 by Craig Sams and his wife Josephine Fairley, the company produced organic and, in some cases, Fairtrade chocolate. In 2005 it was bought out by Cadbury Schweppes. Sams defended Cadbury's commitment to the brand's values saying: "Cadbury got its people to read the Fairtrade and organic regulations."
Ben and Jerry's - Unilever
All-natural ice cream company founded in 1978 by Jerry Greenfield and Ben Cohen. Bought by Unilever in 2000. The co-founders said: "We hope that, as part of Unilever, Ben & Jerry's will continue to expand its role in society."
The Body Shop - L'Oréal
Founded on an ethical basis by Anita Roddick, the company was sold to L'Oréal in 2006. Roddick said at the time: "Having L'Oréal come in and say 'we like you, we like your ethics, we want to be part of you, we want you to teach us things' - it's a gift."
Pret A Manger - McDonald's
Pret was founded in 1986. It claims to avoid additives, uses recycled packaging and tries to buy organic. A third of the company was sold to McDonald's in 2001. In defence of the sale, Pret's commercial director, Simon Hargraves, said: "McDonald's has never had any day-to-day role in Pret, nor has it had any say over what we do, or how we do it."
Seeds of Change - Mars
Howard Shapiro set up a small seed company in 1989, later expanding to sell organic foods. In 1997 it was bought by Mars. Shapiro defended the sale, saying: "Mars is interested in providing what consumers want. If that's organic food, then Mars wants to be able to satisfy that demand."