Plant-based milk alternatives have hit the mainstream on a global scale. The hype around products like oat milk is already evident, so there is no point in saturating the evidence further. However, what I am interested in is taking a closer look at the state of the plant-based milk ecosystem in China–exploring Oatly (oat-milk behemoth) in particular.
But first, some stats…
90% of China’s population is lactose intolerant, meaning that there is a clear need for plant-based milk alternatives. It is no wonder, then, that from 2015 to 2017 China has experienced a 17% increase in demand for cow’s milk substitutes. Factoring this information into account, it shouldn’t be a surprise that the plant-based milk market is anticipated to top 34 billion dollars by 2024.
There is a clear advantage for a company like the Swedish Oatly to set-up shop in China to begin its interminable reign of oat milk domination. Oatly has already commenced its operations in Shanghai, and is using PR tactics like calling its product “the new milk” in order to accommodate consumer sentiment. According to the company’s CEO, Toni Petersson:
“In China, ‘oat milk’ [would mean] a mix of cow’s milk and chunks of oats — something to drink and chew. It can be confusing for people. [Oatly] is a new milk. It’s like dairy milk, but is plant-based. People use soy in a different way; oats’ flavour is more neutral than soy and can be used in coffee or on cereal.”
According to market research, Chinese consumers are welcome to trying out alternatives to cow’s milk. A surprising motivation for this stems from coffeeconsumption––specifically, utilizing plant-based substitutes in order to avoid the doom of giving up lattes and cappuccinos as a result of lactose intolerance. In fact, China is so upbeat about the savior oat milk that the nation has even launched it’s own character for “vegan milk”. Petersson has also jumped onto the optimist train:
“This year will be crazy here. We expect four or five times the sales [in China and Hong Kong] versus last year, but it could be much more if we have more supply. If you look at the movement across the world, including in China, it’s going so fast now, especially driven by young people. They understand they have an impact in how they consume.”