Oatly, the Swedish plant-based oat milk maker, has just announced that it has drawn a US$200 million investment from Blackstone Growth, a group under multinational financial services giant Blackstone, and some of the biggest names in entertainment such as Oprah Winfrey, Natalie Portman, and Starbucks’ chief executive Howard Schultz. The news comes amid a wave of investor support for more sustainable plant-based alternatives as the coronavirus crisis triggers the biggest shift away from animal protein than ever before.
The latest investment takes the Malmö-based startup’s valuation figure to roughly US$2 billion, and gives the new shareholders a 10% stake in the company. Other participating investors included Roc Nation, the entertainment giant founded by Jay-Z and the investment arm of Rabobank.
For Oatly, which has become one of the biggest plant-based dairy brands in the world with a presence in 20 countries, the investment means benefiting from the impressive network of logistics, supply chain and consumer companies owned or controlled by Blackstone and the list of influential celebrity investors.
By expanding its reach, Oatly hopes to be able to reduce the impact of the dairy industry on the plant. According to analysts at non-profit organisation GRAIN, the top ten of the world’s biggest dairy corporations are responsible for generating enough carbon emissions to match half of France’s total carbon output. Aside from greenhouse gas emissions, dairy farming depletes the soil of nutrients, contributes to water pollution and is inefficient in land-use.
Not only is oat milk by far a more eco-friendly choice when compared to traditional milk, the substitute also fares better compared to other plant-based milks, such as almond milk, which has a higher water footprint.
Oatly is well known for creative and boundary-pushing advertising campaigns from debuting a new Chinese character for milk to launching giant billboards touting oat milk as made for humans, prompting the dairy lobby in their native Sweden to push back loudly.
The company is not without competitors, brands like Califia Farms and Alpro, not to mention many dairy giants getting in on the skyrocketing plant-based trend.
Oatly’s investment news comes amid a tidal wave of capital flowing into plant-based dairy companies and the wider alternative protein industry as the coronavirus crisis turns consumers away from animal protein and its associated health, food safety and sustainability dangers, triggering what could be an existential crisis for big dairy firms.
“It is my belief that capital has to turn green and do so for the right reasons,” said Toni Petersson, CEO of Oatly, in a statement.
Other alternatives have also seen great shows of support, with Singapore-based lab-grown milk startup TurtleTree Labs scoring US$3.2 million in a seed round while animal-free fermented dairy startup Perfect Day extended its Series C to a whopping US$300 million.
But even prior to the pandemic, investors had already turned their eye to a number of plant-based milk brands, including one of Oatly’s biggest rivals in the category, Califia Farms. In January, the California-based startup announced that it had secured US$225 million in a Series D round, one of the largest private capital raisings within the natural foods sector.
Lead image courtesy of Oatly.