Rise of Oat Milk: Why It’s Taking Over

In coffee shops across the country, caffeine addicts are increasingly asking for a new side item to go with their fix: oat milk.

Photo: whoneedssalad.com

The milk substitute has become so popular in places like Brooklyn that shortages have broken out, and a grey market for the most sought-after brand of the stuff — Oatly — has popped up online. Sometimes liters of Oatly can sell for as much as $18 each.

New Challenger Approaching

Over the past year, the dairy-averse and beyond have become obsessed with oat milk. You’ve probably heard about it: Chalkboard signs boasting, “We now offer oat milk” continue to pop up outside local coffee shops, and cartons filled with the plant-based beverage are taking up space in the dairy aisle.

Likewise, baristas across the country are suggesting oat milk to their regular customers as well as to their friends and fellow coffee aficionados. Everyone — from foodies to vegans to environmentalists — is talking about it.

Oat milk was created in Sweden for lactose-intolerant people about two decades ago, and it caught on.

The beverage industry has taken notice. New brands of oat milk are set to flood the U.S. market this year. Oatly wants to stay on top. So they’re opening two U.S. factories, one in New Jersey and one in Utah.

The increased supply will help make sure there’s plenty of Oatly for Brooklyn and Los Angeles. But Sweden-based Oatly has bigger plans for its product. They want everyone to drink it.

But What’s the Appeal?

From baristas’ perspectives, oat milk lends itself well to creating the best, tastiest beverages. Lauren Sorensen, founder of Stonefruit Expresso + Kitchen in Brooklyn, NY, says oat milk’s neutral flavor makes it perfect for espresso and matcha drinks. Coffee drinkers, too, are drawn to its more subtle flavor.

Many drinkers say its consistency is more similar to cow’s milk than that of almond milk or other dairy milk substitutes. It’s usually thicker and doesn’t curdle or chunk up in iced drinks like almond milk can. Vegans or aspiring vegans would love the product as dairy is one the

hardest substitutes they find, and oat milk is a nice replacement as it tastes just as creamy and milk-like as cow’s.

Because almonds require over six times as much water to grow as oats do, according to the Water Footprint Network, the choice to switch from almond milk to oat milk also seemed environmentally sensible.

Price of Early Entry

At Onyx Coffee Lab in Arizona, whose three cafes and roastery are in northwest Arkansas, Oatly is a recent addition to the shop’s ever-changing menu, which has included barrel-aged cold brew and drinks made from cascara, the husk of the fruit from a coffee plant. Most of the shop’s plant-based milks — almond, coconut and macadamia — cost an additional 75 cents per cup.

Because of a higher wholesale price, Oatly comes with a surcharge of $1. But Andrea Allen, who owns Onyx with her husband, Jon, and was impressed by Oatly’s flavor when she sampled it at a trade show, says this hasn’t discouraged customers, many of whom were converted by an oat-milk-focused seasonal menu last fall.

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