Otis Oat Milk-ing it

Since launching less than a year ago, Otis Oat Milk has exceeded all expectations.

Founders Tim Ryan and Chris Wilkie were raised on farms in New Zealand and after 10-years in Europe decided to return home.

“Seeing the changing consumer that is evolving globally who is plugged into environmental and health issues, we knew New Zealand had to evolve its agriculture export makeup to ensure our farmers are more future-proofed for this change,” Ryan says.

The pair began product development in 2017 and launched their oat milk into its first cafe in April 2019. Demand surged and it is now sold in more than 150 cafes.

“This [growth] is limited only by the small amount of milk we can produce in our current manufacturing facility,’ Ryan says.

In response to that overwhelming demand, and with an eye on international markets, the company is set to build a large-scale Dunedin factory (called ‘The Plant Plant’) that can produce 25 million litres of oat milk a year.

The factory will be New Zealand’s first dairy alternatives facility and its sheer size will require an investor to join later in the year.

Otis is also set to release a retail version of its milk to supermarkets in Q3 of this year and at that point, it will massively scale up volume and supply to take Kiwi oats to the world.

Ryan says he’s proud to have seen the company come to life.

“From the idea inception to now seeing it nationwide in cafes is something that makes all of us proud.”

“We feel so strongly about the need to raise the debate around needing to diversify our land use as a country, to make us more modern and future-focused, and it’s satisfying to see the brand deliver on disrupting the conversation as that’s our core mission.”

Oat milk is a fast-growing plant-based category that is expected to be worth about $55 billion globally in the next four years.

Despite widespread competition with other milk alternative businesses, Otis Oat Milk has seen significant growth.

“I think its testament to the brand that our message has resonated so well with consumers.

“The fact we are the market leader in New Zealand, and that we have the most incredible, nutrient-dense hero ingredient in our Oats, means we stand on a strong footing for future success.”

But it hasn’t been all plain sailing.

“We have had to forge our way through barriers at every turn”, Ryan admits.

“There is no viable scale-up solution in New Zealand that hasn’t previously had dairy used in the pipes – this wasn’t acceptable for us and we saw very clearly that the brands’ mission had to then focus on creating a pathway for Kiwi plant-based brands to scale up and access the international market.

“This is a large and complex issue to solve, on top of maintaining the running and growth of the brand to date, it’s been hugely challenging but equally incredibly satisfying.”

The business has been completely self-funded to date, and recently took on an investor for a small share of the business.

Advice for others

Ryan says its important entrepreneurs start with a purpose that adds something to the world and do so with the mindset it will be the hardest thing you undertake.

“Being a so-called entrepreneur is simply understanding the creative process, it’s relentless problem-solving. Stay humble and ask for help from mentors that have skill sets in key facets of your business.”

He believes Kiwi companies have a significant advantage over competitors and for that reason the company has its sights set on exporting.

“If we are to deliver on our mission of diversifying land use and adding value to farmers farm gate prices, then we must export millions of litres of plant-based goodness to the world.”

“We have plans beyond just oat milk and feel New Zealand can lead the world in plant-based food production. The initial focus is on Australia and Asia seeing they are on our back doorstep.”

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