It is a known fact that New Zealand has invested very heavily in its dairy industry over many years, with a large amount of dairy farming undertaken all over its islands.
“There are more cows than ever before and the negative environmental effects are numerous – though both [co-founder Chris Wilkie] and I grew up on farms, hence even though we really want to disrupt this status quo and promote plant-based milks, we still want to make sure farmers can farm and have a successful future,” Otis Oat M!lk Chief Oat Milker Tim Ryan told FoodNavigator-Asia.
“Oats are one of the best ways we think we can do this, as although most of the other plant-based milk sources like almonds and soy don’t grow so well here, New Zealand actually grows some of the best oats, given that we’re located so far down south – so it makes sense for oats to be our best plant-based milk.”
Otis will be launching its first retail products in local FoodStuff supermarkets come August 2020, but it is already relatively well-known given its tremendous reach from supplying to some 150 cafes across New Zealand.
“We’re also looking to export to Australia this year as our first target foreign market, but after that we definitely also want to go to Singapore, Japan and China next,” said Ryan.
“The prevalence of lactose intolerance in Asia is really high, and even for those without, studies have shown that the consumption of too much cow’s milk is not advisable. So what we intend to do is build on the New Zealand branding to provide that provenance of clean and green, and work with NZ Trade to do this.
Health and sustainability
Ryan added that one of the most outstanding health benefits that oats can confer is for cholesterol control and heart health, and this is due to its beta-glucan content.
“Maintaining good beta-glucan levels in the end-product is the most technical challenge we have in making the oat milk, and we’ve put in a lot of research to maintain this,” he said.
He added that the environmental impact of oats is also a key plus point, as it is ‘healthier for the environment’ than other options such as soy, almonds and rice.
Otis Oat M!ilk is New Zealand’s first homegrown and made oat milk firm, and it has a grand vision to help other start-ups advance too.
“The plan is to build an overall New Zealand dairy alternative factory – we’re calling it the Plant Plant,” said Ryan.
“One of the toughest challenges we faced early on was upon graduating from the support system from the Food Innovation Network, we found there was no infrastructure to move out to a contract manufacturing phase. So we want to build this pathway, both for ourselves and other F&B manufacturing brands like those interested in hemp milks etc.”
Although the alternative milk is the firm’s current main focus, the team has plans beyond just this.
“We’re also looking at other oat-based innovations like chocolate milk, ice cream, crème fraiche and so on – but want to get the milk right first,” he said.
“The plan is to use the oat milk as our Trojan horse of sorts to go large scale and secure investments for the factory, then we’ll look even further.”