Challenger To Watch 2017: Oatly

Poking beige in the eye. 


It’s a Sunday morning and time for coffee. I live in a rapidly gentrifying area of London, so my local coffee spot is painfully trendy; it’s all plywood benchtops, sourdough loaves and Monocle magazines. A scruffy haired guy wearing pyjamas and walking a Pug swans into the cafe and loudly orders a strong, non-dairy, piccolo (read: tiny pretentious coffee). What do I spy the poor barista making this offensive human’s coffee with? Oatly. Oatly has made it to Peckham. It’s official. Oatly is cool.

A Swedish non-dairy milk made from oats, it was originally developed in the early 1990s by scientists looking for a healthier alternative to cow’s milk that’s better for the environment, but since a radical re-brand in 2014 it's become something of a hot ticket in the non-dairy world.

It started with an executive board making an exceptional decision; they hired Toni Petersson, a CEO from outside the food category. Unencumbered by any industry baggage, Toni brought a sense of naivety to his new role, and working closely with Creative Director John Schoolcraft they broke with Oatly’s past as a business resembling a Dutch multinational, and propelled Oatly into a new future as a challenger brand.

Oatly see the carton less as packaging and more their primary communications opportunity.

If you’ve ever found yourself perusing the milk alternatives aisle, you will have seen it riddled with bland packaging conventions – it’s all beige colour schemes, nondescript branding and gratuitous white liquid pouring and splashing merrily. It’s enough to ease you into a light, dairy-free coma. Oatly, on the other hand, is loud. Its bold colours, unpredictable typography and design catch the eye. They see the carton less as packaging and more their primary communications opportunity. Provocative copywriting covers all sides of the pack, including one side dedicated to their punchy manifesto.

Oatly is fast becoming the thought leader of the category globally; setting up the world’s first non-dairy coffee festival, selling t-shirts with slogans such as “Post Milk Generation” and more recently, releasing unbranded products under the label of “Not Milk”. It’s these activities which have put Oatly firmly on the path to becoming a lifestyle brand (read: Brand mecca). And they are already reaping the rewards; they clocked a revenue of $40m in 2016 and have plans to enter the U.S and Asia markets this year.

And on a personal note, if we must live in a world where pyjama clad, piccolo sipping, Pug walking millennials feel welcome in our cafes, then we can at least appreciate the fact that they are making environmentally friendly consumption choices. Perhaps we should consider joining them.