Nathan Lloyd     Tom Jones   |   Culture     🕐 04. Apr. 2018
Swedes are used to seeing Oatly products on the shelves, after all Malmö is the home of their headquarters and their factory is based in Landskrona. With quirky designs, they have capitalised on the recent surge in demand for plant-based alternatives to dairy milk, a demand that is not limited to Sweden, but is seen all around the world.
It may come as a surprise to Swedes to hear that the brand has been the subject of a supply and demand war in the United Kingdom, whereby the company has not been able to keep up with its popularity, in particular over their foamable oatmilk, iKaffe.
Award winning “mylk”
In the UK, plant based alternatives have not always been as readily available. What has been on offer has not always satisfied the thirst of customers. Among the tried and tested soya and rice based alternatives, Oatly has proved to be overwhelmingly popular. In January 2018 they won Vegan Food UK’s award for “Best Dairy-Free Mylk”. On the Vegan Food UK Facebook page the award was announced together with the caption “Oatly have heard our voice” and the first comment on the post reads “Lets [sic] hope that with this award comes lots more stock!” This hints at the scale of the problem; with great popularity comes great responsibility to deliver a product in sufficient quantities to satisfy the customers.
Filter coffee is perhaps the most popular choice of hot beverage in Sweden, while in the UK a cup of strong black tea with a splash of milk is favoured. As recognised by the Oatly themselves in a recent interview with plantbasednews.org, when asked about the rise in popularity and the struggle to meet demand, they recognised that “if you’re the sort of person who prefers a cup of tea, this product can handle that as well, without separating.” This makes it perfect for the British market. With a rise in calls for plant-based alternatives, and the partiality for milky hot drinks, the conditions were ripe for all-out war among the plant based communities, both across Facebook and in the aisles of supermarkets up and down the UK.
Social media silence
One of the ways in which the plant based message has spread is through social media. It was here the battle lines of the conflict were drawn. In January, the time that has become known as Veganuary, where newcomers are encouraged to “go Vegan” for a month, there have been posts on some groups calling for a blanket silence on the issue of Oatly iKaffe. On one group, one poster wrote “Let's all agree now we DO NOT recommend Oatly Barista! It's hard enough to come by, without telling even more people about it!”.
The shortage of iKaffe in the UK goes back for months throughout 2017, and its impact depends very much on location. Would-be customers have coped with the shortage in a variety of ways. For some it was a case of “I couldn’t get it for 7 months even on Amazon. Finally, my fiance went to all Tesco’s in a 40 mile radius between Glasgow and Edinburgh to find some”, to “It was hard to get during Veganuary. I would find out when the shops would get their delivery and go in on the correct day.” As mentioned, some people were even resorting to going online to get their fix of the elusive, oat based nectar, which then saw a steep surge in prices for black market Oatly. A quick search on ebay.co.uk reveals that a six pack of iKaffe has been bought for as much as £33.43, which translates as 391,69 SEK.
The hoarding mentality of those who managed to find a plentiful supply, together with Oatly’s inability to meet the rise in demand, has led to stocks being sold out. One irate commenter pointed out that the heart of the shortage “Might be because there are so many greedy people walking over the the [sic] shelves and taking whole boxes off them. Hate it when people do that. It's self centred. You know who you are.”
That being said, Oatly themselves have recognised that the cry for demand has risen significantly, and they are striving to meet that demand. Plantbasednews.org contacted them in January and were told “we’re expanding our facilities which are based in Landskrona, in South Sweden. The expansion will enable us to increase our manufacturing capacity, in order to meet the growing demand for Oatly throughout Europe – and of course the UK.” Hopefully, in the UK, the days of having to drive long distances, fight in the aisles over boxes and order from cynics on eBay for vastly inflated prices will be over.
Generally, the future looks very bright for Oatly. They are busy conquering America and there is no reason why the company cannot rise to meet the current demand. As Mike Messersmith, general manager of Oatly, explained in a 2017 article with foodnavigator-usa.com “oats are an incredibly sustainable crop.”
Their consumption of land, water and resources is far lower than that of their competitors. Additionally, the resistance of oats to cold weather is considerable, a fact which seems evident when considering how popular oats are throughout the famously chilly Nordic region. When compared to the resources required for dairy milk or even almond milk, the strengths of the product massively outweigh any negatives. Now that they know that customers are willing to go to great lengths to get hold of their products, the future of the company seems to be entirely in Oatly’s own hands.