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Oat predicted to overtake almond as king of plant-based milks

NEW YORK :  Almond, soy, coconut, non-fat or whole?

American stores offer a dizzying array of milk but a new option is experiencing unprecedented growth and fast becoming a vegan favorite: Oat milk.

The oat milk market was virtually non-existent five years ago, but in the 12 months to April 2019, revenues from the sale of the non-dairy creamy drink catapulted 222 per cent, according to The Good Food Institute.

Recently, Starbucks, American yogurt giant Chobani and Nesquik have started offering oat milk, which has nutritional and environmental benefits.

"There seems to be a buzz around oat milk, especially in the US," said food correspondent Andy Coyne at research firm GlobalData.

Swedish world leader Oatly entered the US market in 2016, offering oat milk in coffee shops. "(That) was a very clever piece of ground-up marketing from Oatly," said Coyne.

"It became a word of mouth phenomenon and its popularity has grown from there."

Oat milk sales represent just over one per cent of sales of almond milk in the US, according to the data compiled by The Good Food Institute, which promotes plant-based alternatives to meat, dairy and eggs. But oat milk companies expect their product to rapidly catch up, saying it has the edge over rivals in taste.

"Almond milk is great but it tastes like almond," said chief marketing officer Peter Truby at US oat milk producer Elmhurst.

"And what if you don't want an almond taste and you're just looking for something creamy to go with your coffee?"

HIGH-END

While oats have a very common-man image, Oatly succeeded in positioning oat milk as a high-end product by first establishing it in the coffee market. Now it is ubiquitous on shelves across supermarkets.

For Mike Messersmith, president for North America at Oatly, oat milk has two other advantages which fit well with the rise of veganism, besides taste.

Firstly, its nutritional properties: It is low in calories, with lots of fibreand more protein than other grains, and unlike soy or almonds it is known to cause few allergies.

Secondly, it "minimises the impact on our natural resources", added Messersmith.

The production of cow's milk and almond milk requires about 15 and eight times the amount of water needed to make oat milk respectively, according to a study published in the journal Science in 2018.

"Sustainability is becoming an important selling point and it's something that clearly resonates with consumers," said Coyne. - AFP

Food & Drink