Two years ago, it was a major deal when Starbucks added almond milk to its menu. At long last, everyone’s alt-milk dreams came true! Now, there’s a new dairy alternative on people’s healthy latte order wish list: oat.
The demand for oat milk has become so massive that market leader Oatly has upped its production by 1,250 percent just to meet it—including building a new factory to do so. The brand largely credits baristas for spreading the oat milk gospel. “When we decided to come to the US [from Sweden], we thought folks here would be ready for us and they definitely were,” says Sara Fletcher, the brand’s communications and public affairs lead. “A lot of people tried Oatly first at a coffee shop, which is an easy way to see how it tastes and performs. And when we launched in grocery stores earlier this year, the people who had grown to love oat milk in their coffee were ready to stock their fridges, too.”
The demand for oat milk has become so massive that market leader Oatly has upped its production by 1,250 percent just to meet it—including building a new factory to do so.
Lee Zheng, who owns Saltwater Coffee in New York City, sees the demand for oat milk firsthand, saying it’s now even more popular than (gasp!) almond. “It doesn’t have the nutty taste the other alternatives, like almond or macadamia, do, and it’s creamy and steams quite well compared to [dairy] milk, which is an added bonus as not all alternate milks do well being frothed,” she says.
Quaker, owned by PepsiCo, is also coming out with an oat milk next year. “The dairy alternative beverages space is growing rapidly, as 60 percent of the US population is reducing their consumption of animal products and 60 percent of US adults also drink non-dairy milk,” says Brian Hannigan, senior marketing director of innovation strategy for PepsiCo North America Nutrition. And the decision to launch a Quaker-branded oat milk only came after extensive research into what consumers are looking for in this space, according to Hannigan.
Kara Nielsen, the vice president of trends and marketing at CCD Helmsman credits both the plant-based hook and Americans’ familiarity with the ingredient, for turning oat milk into a home fridge staple. “Oats are a familiar American crop and already often part of morning mealtime, when many of these milk alternatives are used, whether on cereal, in a smoothie or for a coffee drink,” she says.
But just because it’s become the new darling of the mylk world doesn’t mean oat milk is without its faults. “Oats were found to have glyphosate on the products the Environmental Working Group tested,” points out integrative and functional medicine doctor Frank Lipman, MD, adding that although oat milk was not tested, all other oat products had glyphosate. (Fletcher, at Oatly responds to this saying the brand sources their oats from Grain Millers, who since 2015 has required that its farmers not use glyphosate on their oats, which are tested regularly to ensure compliance.)
But don’t expect for it to stay just a coffee add-in: It’s only a matter of time before the dairy alternative becomes the starring ingredient in alt-yogurts and “nice creams.” (One out now: Frankie & Jo’s.) And maybe—just maybe—2019 is the year it shows up at your local Starbucks.
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