In the beginning, milk came from animals. Then, humans, with their trademark ingenuity, realized that milk can come from anywhere: soybeans, almonds, rice, coconuts, even hemp. They milked sunflower seeds and flaxseed, and apparently quinoa and peas, too. But the buzziest thing they milked, the milkable object that really captured the hearts of the bourgeoisie, was a simple cereal grain: oat.
I watched vegan friends change their fancy coffee-shop orders overnight, disowning almond milk and going all-in for oat. This was mostly thanks to a single company, Oatly, which launched in the U.S. in 2016. It has celebrity backers like Jay-Z, Oprah, and others and a budding partnership with Starbucks. And soon you’ll be able to get in on the oat-milk craze in a new way, since Oatly is going public.
On Tuesday morning, Havre Global AB, Oatly’s parent company, announced it was confidentially filing an initial public offering with the Securities and Exchange Commission. If you’re not a vegan, a millennial, or a European, Oatly might have come on your radar after its intentionally bad Super Bowl ad from earlier this month wherein CEO Toni Petersson played an electric keyboard in a field of oats, singing/screaming, “It’s like milk, but made for humans … Wow, no cow, wow, wow, no cow.” After the commercial, Oatly gave away T-shirts that said “I Totally Hated That Oatly Commercial” on its website. This is a company that has an annoyingly nuanced understanding of marketing.
In 2020, oat-milk sales increased by over 300 percent in the U.S., surpassing soy milk to become the second-most-popular dairy-free milk. (Almond still sits comfortably in first place.) Even though companies from Silk to Chobani now have their own oat-milk lines, Oatly is responsible for this dairy-free milk taking off in the U.S. A Swedish company, Oatly has been around in Europe since the early 1990s. When Oatly entered the American scene in 2016, it captured the Zeitgeist with its sustainability messaging, particularly appealing to eco-conscious millennials and Zoomers. Most important, as the food experts at Grub Street have noted, Oatly tastes very good. “In coffee, which is the most important place for milk, it is decadently creamy, even according to people who can, and do, consume actual cream,” wrote Rachel Sugar. “Oatly reminds me of the Swedish childhood I did not have.”
With high praise coming from vegans and dairy lovers alike, it’s no wonder that the company was valued at $2 billion in July. Yes, I’m afraid that it’s oat milk’s world, and we’re just living in it.