Oatly’s Upcoming $10 Billion IPO Was 20 Years in the Making
With a Super Bowl ad, a massive Starbucks deal, and a public offering on the way, Oatly is suddenly everywhere. Just don’t call it milk.
Gastro-nomics is a column about the intersection of food, business, and culture.
My initiation to Oatly, the Swedish alternative-milk darling, came in the storybook way that chief marketing officers dream about. The barista at my precious south Brooklyn neighborhood coffee shop recommended it back in 2018 as a way to supercharge my coffee habit. Apparently, he wasn’t the only barista making the recommendation: Later that year, the Great Oatly Shortage arrived — a famine so dire it led coffee shop operators and oat milk fanatics to seriously consider ponying up $200 for 12-carton packs of the plant-based milk to strangers on the internet. Now, with the help of a $15 million processing plant in New Jersey, Oatly is everywhere.
The company has been around since the 1990s, but its recent journey from obscurity to cult status to ubiquity is the result of good branding, great timing, and a calculated global push. After more than 20 years in operation, Oatly debuted in the American market in 2016, long after the backlash toward terms like “foodie” and “third-wave coffee” had blown away like so much quinoa chaff and finickiness about food had become a consumer virtue instead of a social liability. Still, Oatly, which created the now-ascendant oat milk category all by itself, was entering a field crowded with dairy-milk alternatives made from the likes of soy, almond, pea, coconut, and rice. That’s where the company’s quirk came in.
Oat Milk’s Udder Disruption of Dairy, By the Numbers
Since the pandemic started, everyone’s been hoarding all the oat milk
Oatly’s early marketing strategy for the United States involved the deployment of a dedicated “barista edition” of its product, which successfully mimicked the texture of dairy milk in highfalutin coffee drinks like lattes and cappuccinos. In describing the difference between oat milk and, say…