Trent Pike, co-founder of Oh Oat, explains the idea behind the South African brand’s fresh oat milk and sustainable wine bottle packaging.
Renato Marchesini and I are always on the lookout for impactful business ideas or concepts. So during a typical conversation in 2018, oat milk was mentioned in passing as a great opportunity. Why oat milk? There are far easier businesses to start or ways to make money, but none are quite as impactful.
Oat milk is the easiest way to improve your health, the health of the planet, and reduce animal suffering. It has been shown, again and again, to be one of the most environmentally sustainable plant-based alternatives across almost every metric: land-use, waste-use, pesticide-use and energy-use. Producing it locally and packaging it in glass elevates these sustainable credentials even further.
And so the Oh Oat dream began. Our oat milk journey started in September 2018, and over the two years it took us to eventually launch to market, there were countless twists and turns. Well, over 1,000 milk trials in the kitchen later, we had a recipe and process that produced creamy oat milk with just five ingredients — oats, water, calcium carbonate, salt and sunflower oil. And at 18%, Oh Oat has the highest oat content of any oat milk in the world.
We often get asked why we took so long to launch. We were well ahead of the curve: South Africans were only introduced to oat milk in late 2020, so if our development period had been just six months shorter, we would have been first to market. But we have always had the mindset that we would rather be last to market and create a product so good that no one could follow.
Creating the best milk alternative in the world has always been our number one priority. Plant-based can and should mean tastier — we were adamant on making that a reality.
Building our factory proved to be quite the challenge, taking a recipe perfected on a kitchen stove and adapting it for large scale production is no easy feat. Having no background or experience in food production, we sought out expertise and mentorship from anyone and everyone relevant to our cause. We also did a lot of research, had many debates and engaged in countless hours of critical thinking and problem-solving.
Since our launch, the feedback has been truly amazing and makes us believe that perhaps we did achieve that ambitious goal. Customers in Cape Town love our product, our innovative packaging, what we stand for as a company and the depths we are willing to go to turn our dream into reality.
Our route to market and growth has been incredibly fast. We began with a little market stall at two of Cape Town’s most iconic markets — The Neighbourgood Market in Woodstock and the Oranjezicht Farmers’ Market in Granger Bay. The reception there and the invaluable customer interactions we had have been the cornerstones of our growth.
Next, we entered the cafe market in Cape Town and quickly began stocking almost every independent cafe in the city (over 100 to date). We continue to be in awe of the reception we had and the willingness of owners to embrace the old-school glass bottle return system we were proposing.
Our final sales channel (to date) is our e-commerce site, where we give customers the opportunity to purchase our milk on a subscription basis — milkman style.
Nine months since our launch, we find ourselves growing a little food business and creating a South Africa we believe in. We’re creating jobs, supporting families and hopefully shifting the needle towards plant-based living. Our team has swelled to eleven, our customer base to thousands and our impact to a scale we are starting to become proud of.
We’re expanding our product range slowly, increasing our sales channels, improving our production efficiencies and helping more and more people make those very important micro-shifts towards plant-based living.
Our dream is to look back on Oh Oat in five or ten years’ time and be proud of the positive impact we made on the lives of individuals who entered our sphere of influence. Whether they are our teammates, family members, friends, customers or fans, we hope to make a long-lasting, positive impact on their lives.