Things Are About To Get Oat Of Control

In November last year, London Hackney Coffee Company ran out of Oatly. Dwindling supplies of the milk alternative in our capital was news enough for Sky. 

Milk alternatives within the food and drink industry are under attack, notably some nut milk’s lack of nuts and wealth of environmental damage, but oat milk escapes unscathed. 

Oatly stated they had seen a 100% growth since 2017, with turnover projected to be £19m in 2018 – this Swedish oat milk brand is taking the world by storm.

So, why is Oatly so special?

For one, it is fairly new. Founded back in the 1990s, Oatly was envisioned by Swedish research from Lund University.

It is also bucking the fibre trend by claiming to copy nature’s science with enzymes that turn fibre rich oats into liquid suitable for humans.

And something I’m keen to explore: Oatly’s ingenious marketing. It’s cool and respectable in the US and even created its own neologism for ‘plant-based milk’ in Chinese.

This marketing idea was a result of some research in the country that found 96% of people think of cow’s milk when they see the Chinese word for milk. However, 73% say they would consider switching from cow’s milk to plant-based milk if they knew more about why it’s better for the environment and human body.

Looking to Oatly’s digital image for inspiration on this article, I was immediately confronted with the question ‘are you a healthcare professional?’ when I entered their homepage. With a yes or no choice, of course, I clicked no – I work in marketing, and it sent me right back to the homepage. Sneaky.

Does this highlight how quick we are to dwell on nutritionals too much? Or this an easy way for Oatly to get you back to what they want you to be doing – buying their products?

As for social media, while you might think Oatly is a brand made for millennials due to a personably sassy tone echoed throughout its packaging and media presence, a quick glance on their Instagram profile suggests they are really aiming to convert everyone.

… “Everyone’s grandparent are the best! Of course. But this post is just for those of you with social-media-using grandparents who might be interested in joining the Post Milk Generation and wearing a t-shirt that tells the world about it.”

post milk generation instagram post

On Twitter their bio boasts a status of scientific and ethical pioneer: “We are the company that made the first oat drink. Our goal is always to deliver products that have maximum nutritional value and minimal environmental impact.” 

They’re not ashamed to point out the ethical reasons to purchase either, putting it rather bluntly in one tweet: “When you’re a person who eats plant-based foods and you can’t fall asleep, the sheep you count probably seem really grateful.”

When I can’t fall asleep it’s usually due to the blue-light resonating behind my eye-lids. But it used to be over finding alternatives once I found out about my intolerance to milk.

I recently wrote about this and the impact it has had on my sweet tooth for chocolate. As for breakfast time, would I ever be able to enjoy the odd glass of milk, pancakes or porridge again? 

Plant-based milk brands are appearing weekly so finding an alternative was a challenge but not an impossible mission for someone with such a fussy palette. Soya milk was only tolerable when cooked in something, almond was far too strong, I’m not a fan of coconut anyway, so coconut milk was never really an option.

Oat milk was the first milk I got on board with instantly. Plus, I wasn’t restricted to a particular brand and personally find it difficult to compare between them. But I would go for Oatly. 

The packaging is fun and light hearted and is definitely chic enough for my fridge. But this aspect is just the beginning of Oatly’s ability to get it right for the consumer, they also know how to push through and past the ethical boundaries of their category.

Oatly unveiled a straight talking ‘ditch milk’ poster campaign arguing oat milk produced 73% less CO2 emissions than cow’s milk. The brand will be publishing the climate impact data onto the packaging in the near future brilliantly alongside the best before dates and calorie info to signal its importance.

Speaking ahead of the London Coffee Festival, creative director of Oatly Michael Lee argued on top of the environmental facts “if people further consider that oat drink tastes and performs pretty great in your coffee or porridge or banana smoothie, without first travelling through the body of a cow, then we’re hoping that Shoreditch and the thousands of Baristas visiting the area might eventually label this call to Ditch Milk a complete ‘no-brainer’.”

A complete no-brainer… Or an excellent marketing campaign?

Oatly’s £700,000 UK campaign from last year was certainly controversial. “It’s like milk, but made for humans” posters were plastered up across underground platforms and billboards.

oatly billboard

When this tagline was used in 2015 in Sweden, Oatly lost a lawsuit against the Swedish dairy industry who argued it belittled cow’s milk as unhealthy.

Nevertheless, three years later and here we are. Truly oatrageous.

Do you have a product which is in the free from category that you would like to get onto the market? Get in touch or email


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