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Get oat side: Morgan Maw, Boring Oat Milk

New Zealand grows great oats and makes excellent oat milk – in Sweden. That’s right. It’s grown in New Zealand and then shipped to Sweden where it’s processed and returned to our shores to be bottled and sold. That hardly seems the sustainable alternative we all hoped for. But the madness of that scenario is finally being addressed by a new brand, the Boring Oat Milk Company. Vincent spoke to Boring founder Morgan Maw.

 

Vincent: Why did you launch the Boring Oat Milk Company during lockdown? It’s madness!

Morgan: Yes, lockdown level four started two days before we launched. And, you know, I now have a quote that COVID is what happens when you make plans. And that certainly was the case for us – all of our fancy launch plans have completely just gone to the wayside. But we have had a lot of people on their devices, on their phones looking at social media. So we’ve had a lot of attention. So I guess with the downsides there’s been upside as with business, you just got to roll with it.

What’s been the reaction?

When I first looked into doing an oat milk three years ago nobody really knew what it was apart from in the UK or in America. So when I’d speak to retailers and potential investors they were like, ‘oh yeah, but it sounds pretty niche’. Whereas now a lot of people are really aware of it and there’s a lot of press about companies from overseas doing it and how great it is for the environment and how it’s overtaking soy as a second-place plant milk. And now people are asking why isn’t anyone making it here?

 

Was that your way in – because there are a few brands already.

Yes definitely, retailers have told us that they’ve stopped accepting any new oat milks. But they accept us because we’re New Zealand-made. A lot of cafe owners and baristas are pretty woke and aware of the impact and sustainability. Also supply, because with COVID, there’s been huge shipping issues. If you look on the supermarket shelves, a lot of the plant milks are out of stock, but that’s not an issue for us.

 

How many brands can coexist? I think I saw a figure of the category growing 190% at the moment. What is the natural limit?

We’ve still got a way to go in New Zealand because you’ve got almond milk which is truly number one. I think it’s 60% of all plant milks and soy is a close second. And then third is oats but it’s growing in comparison to other players. I think there’s plenty of scope and if we follow suit with other countries it could become second to almond. If I fast forward through in three years’ time, it’ll be interesting to see which of the dairy players have come in and which of us smaller guys are left standing.

 

Why is Southland so good at growing oats?

It’s perfect for growing oats. It requires little to no irrigation because of the rainfall and has long daylight hours. And then also oats are very nitrogen hungry. A big issue with New Zealand is around our intensive farming. You know, a lot of our soils are really heavy in nitrates because of fertilisers. So putting the oats in there can help suck that up and create a more balanced soil structure.

 

And yet we don’t process oats in New Zealand – why?

It shouldn’t be this hard. I mean, we’re a farming nation and we grow this crop really well. We also have a lot of manufacturing capability in New Zealand and a lot of UHT lines. The issue is all of these UHT lines are only set up to process liquids. So I spoke to nearly all of the UHT processors and they said the same thing: Morgan we’ll look at processing your own milk, but you have to deliver it to us as a liquid in a milk tanker and then we can do the processing.

 

Sounds like a dead end.

I had so many conversations that went absolutely nowhere. And then I met these apple juice manufacturers in Hawke’s Bay because I thought, you know, they’ve got the same issue. They’ve got this crop that they have to get into liquid form and then send it to get processed. So I asked them what sort of kit they had and what was the process and figured out that it was quite similar to what we needed for oat milk. That was two years ago. So even though they had a lot of the right equipment, we still needed to order the oats and with COVID, you know, supply chains and compliance as well. I underestimated how long it would take. So that first part of the process – getting the oats, milling them down and getting them into a liquid form – that’s the bit that nobody’s been able to solve.

 

There’s been talk for six months or so about building a big processing plant in Southland handling up to 25 million litres a year. Has that progressed and would you make use of that facility?

Yes, it has progressed to the investment stage. But you know, these things take time. Once they close off their investment round, it will probably take about 24 months for them to order the kit, get it commissioned and get it up and running. We’ve actually partnered with our manufacturer so we won’t be looking down south.

 

Explain the process – what happens after you get the liquid?

The enzymes break down the starches and release the sugars – that gives it the sweetness profile and nice texture. Then you separate because you’ve got a sort of slurry of oats and water. So you separate the solid from the liquid. Currently, we sell the solid off for animal feed – but we’re doing some work at the moment looking to convert that into a plant protein for human consumption as well. As for the rest it’s like a concentrated sort of sweet liquid that goes into a milk tanker, goes down the road to the apple press.

What they do is they put it into these big batching tanks and we add our other ingredients. We use sunflower oil, which gives it good mouthfeel and helps it foam with coffee. And then other ingredients like sea salt, vitamin B12 and calcium. Then it goes through UHT lines, to be heat treated and a homogenizer, and then gets bottled. Our bottles are actually blown on the line which means that they’re really sterile and it gives Boring milk a 12 month shelf life.

 

What was hard about that? And what volumes you are expecting?

We’re looking at a million litres for New Zealand. That can grow. We’d like to get into the big supermarkets in Aussie and expand into China. Were being very careful and considered about it. China’s quite an exciting market because they’re predominantly plant milk drinkers anyway and you have this rising middle class and the children of those rising middle class who are drinking more coffee.

 

Will Chinese consumers like something called Boring?

Yeah it’s the antithesis of what they typically like, but what we’re finding is that a lot of the children of the rising middle class are wanting things that are different, not to buy what their mum and dad are buying.

 

I understand New Zealand produces 33,000 tonnes of oats a year, which doesn’t sound very much. How much of that is used for oat milk?

Just over 50% of it goes into human food, like cereal and porridge. About 45% is for animal feed. And yeah, 33,000 tonnes is not a lot. We’ve got plenty more scope there. We need to be exporting and selling a lot for more of it tobe planted and for it to have a good impact on the land as well. For our million litres, we’ll be using about 160 ton of oats, so that’s not lots. But there’s been an incredible response from the farming community especially dairy farmers who are already using oats to help soak up those nitrates.

 

You’ve got two products: One is for baristas, and one is for general home use. Tell us about that.

We had a lot of help from the guys at Coffee Supreme who stress-tested it on their machines and with their baristas and sent it out to cafes to make sure that it works really well with their coffee and all different forms like pouring it into filter coffee or having with a cold brew. Taste and performance was just the most important thing because there’s plenty of crappy plant milks out there. And we don’t need to add to that. So we have the barista variant, which to be honest, will be a bigger seller because a lot of people are making coffee at home. The original one has less oil in it. It’s more for your smoothies and your cup of tea and cereal.

 

All the best. And I’m sure we’ll hear more from you. Thanks for joining us at The Feed.

Thanks Vincent!

 

Listen to the full interview and stay tuned for our oat milk taste test!

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Vincent Heeringa

Vincent Heeringa

Vincent Heeringa is a communications strategist, writer, marketer and PR expert specialising in tech, investment, and sustainability. He was co-founder of Idealog, Stoppress and Good magazines and helped establish the Science Media Centre. He is the host of a podcast ‘This Climate Business’, co-founder of The Feed.co.nz, and a trustee of the Adventure Specialties Trust. And there's nothing he loves more than a good story. vincentheeringa.com

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