News that smoothie giant Innocent Drinks has jumped into bed with The Coca-Cola Co. for GBP30m will prompt questions from the firm's ethical fan base, but is likely to boost the group's commercial prospects in the longer term.

Innocent, which was founded in 1998 and controls more than two thirds of the UK smoothie market, said today (6 April) that it has sold a minority stake in the company to The Coca-Cola Co. for GBP30m.

The move will surely prove contentious for hard core fans of Innocent, which has built itself up over the last decade as a thoroughly ethical enterprise, while also pushing the fact that its products contain only natural ingredients.

Now, the Coca-Cola behemoth has sunk its claws into the group. Will this be too much for the ethical consciences of Innocent drinkers?

The answer is probably no. In the end, we think the majority of consumers doubtless respect Innocent's credentials on sustainability, but predominantly buy its products for the taste and for health reasons.

The deal has similarities to when Unilever acquired ice cream maker Ben & Jerry's in 2000, yet Ben & Jerry's appears to have maintained its ethical trade and sustainability credentials while expanding sales to levels its founders probably only dreamt about.

With Coca-Cola involved or not, consumers will still buy Innocent drinks if the quality/price mix is right. Besides this, Coca-Cola is on a huge drive to improve its corporate image on issues such as the environment and labour.

A more serious worry for Innocent at this time is the state of the UK smoothie market in the face of recession.

Smoothies have been among the drinks worst hit by the downturn, and like-for-like sales at Innocent are known to have fallen last year. Sales across the total UK smoothie sector fell by 9% to GBP417m in 2008, according to the Britvic Soft Drinks Report 2009, released last month.

Innocent is increasingly focused on growing sales outside of the UK, and particularly in Europe. The investment from Coca-Cola will help the firm to fund this, it said today.