The untold truth of Oatly

Not too long ago, milk was just milk. Everyone knew where it came from, and it came from a cow. Or a goat, if you wanted to live on the edge. Fast forward to 2020, and the reality of milk has fundamentally shifted. The vegans, the lactose-intolerant, the food Instagrammers all demand something different — and they can have it.

Perhaps the first notable shift in the milk landscape was with the advent of the widespread use of soy milk. Though many still viewed it as a strange and unappetizing option, Starbucks started serving the dairy alternative all the way back in 2004. Not long after, more and more milks started to hit the market.

There was coconut milk. There was almond milk. There was even cashew milk. But perhaps the biggest splash in the industry was oat milk, brought about almost simultaneously with Oatly's entrance into the American market in 2016. The company's millennial-friendly branding, and vegan-friendly product, blew up seemingly overnight. Before you knew it, you couldn't walk into a trendy coffee shop without seeing cartons of the stuff cluttering every barista's workspace.

You've probably seen it in stores, and you may have ordered it in your latte. But how much do you really know about the most popular oat milk company on the block? This is the untold truth of Oatly.

Oatly was actually created back in the '90s

If you're like most people, then you probably only heard about Oatly in the past few years. That's because even though it came onto the scene all the way back in the '90s, that was in Malmo, Sweden. Since Sweden's rate of milk consumption is so high, there was an incentive to create dairy-free products for both lactose-intolerant people and for sustainability reasons. Researchers wanted to find a way to create milk from oats, and Oatly was born.

However, the company lived in relative obscurity until 2014, when CEO Toni Petersson joined the company. He saw that there was an opportunity to build a super-popular brand, and he went for it. Petersson recognized that American consumers were buying a lot of plant-based milk, so he thought it was a good place to expand.

And he was right. After the product's introduction into the U.S. in 2016, oat milk exploded in popularity. Who knew Oatly was just waiting for us to discover it after all these years?

Oatly is headquartered in Sweden, but you can find it across the world

Oatly was created in Sweden, and it continues to call the Scandinavian countyy its home. However, it's not just in Sweden and the United States that you can find this popular milk alternative. The company has now spread to more than 20 countries — who would've thought that so many people around the world would be interested in drinking liquid oats? Those countries span North America, Europe, and Asia.

If you're dying for some Oatly and you're wondering where in the world you can try it without bringing home a whole carton, there is a tool for you. It's Oatly's Oatfinder, and it will show you where you can find a cafe that will serve you a cup of joe with some of the good stuff. You'll probably notice it more in larger cities, but you may be surprised at just how far that Oatly map stretches — and it's getting larger all the time.

Oatly first started popping up at hip coffee shops

Those who have been Oatly fans from the very beginning probably remember the first time they saw one of those iconic cartons. For most, it was actually in a coffee shop — not in a grocery store aisle. That's because Oatly had an interesting and innovative method of introducing its product into the U.S. market.

While you could always use oat milk as a non-dairy alternative for your usual morning bowl of cereal or granola, or you could even drink it on its own, Oatly was aware that there was one setting in which its product would really shine: in a cup of coffee. Oatly is creamy and has a nice, light flavor, which makes it perfect for a latte (unlike almond milk, which sometimes has a less-than-delicious flavor and consistency). So why not show the oat milk off where it was going to make the best impression?

Oatly marketed itself to baristas at first. It made a special oat milk blend just for coffee, and the company started selling its product to coffee shops. Customers would come in, try the milk, and decide that they liked it. This led to a customer base that was already excited to see the products in stores. This brilliant marketing idea is largely responsible for the brand's success so far.

There was an Oatly shortage

Oatly's attempt to expand into the U.S. market looked like it was going to be a success almost immediately. It may have started out in trendy coffee shops, but it didn't stay just there — before long, Oatly was everywhere. At one point in the company's expansion, demand increased so quickly that Oatly couldn't even keep up production. That led to a massive Oatly shortage in 2018.

When coffee shops and everyday consumers could no longer get the oat drink they loved, chaos ensued. People wanted their Oatly, and they wanted it now. This turned into something of an internet underground market that had some excited Oatly sellers charging over $200 for a pack of 12 cartons. One 64-ounce carton was selling for a whopping $25.

While some people were undoubtedly unhappy about missing out on their morning splash of Oatly in their coffee, Oatly probably didn't mind making headlines. Free advertising about how desirable your product is? Can't be a bad thing for a company that's looking toward growth.

There are different Oatly flavors available

If you're still an oat milk newbie, then you may assume that oat milk has one flavor: oats. While some have claimed that it tastes a bit like cereal milk (what's the problem with that?), you may be surprised to learn that oat milk can have a lot of varieties. Forget about the variations between different oat milk producers — we're just talking all the different Oatly flavors.

Ever tried Oatly at a coffee shop? If you have, then you probably tried the Oat Drink Barista Edition. On the other hand, if you picked up your oat milk from the grocery store, you likely reached for the plain old Oat Drink. You also have the choice of getting an organic version of that same product. But what you really need to check out are the special flavors.

The Oat Chocolate Drink is the perfect treat for when you want dessert but don't want to blow your whole day of healthy eating. It's surprisingly smooth, and you can drink it on your own (or put it in coffee if you're feeling like treating yourself — you can thank us later). Want something on the fresher side? Try the Oat Drink Orange Mango. Yes, we know it sounds a bit strange. But trust us: It's surprisingly tasty.

Oatly is better for the environment than real milk and other dairy alternatives

Many people are interested in purchasing non-dairy milk because they're lactose-intolerant. There are always going to be those people out there, and they have a wide variety of options to choose from if they're looking for a dairy replacement. From soy milk to almond milk, the plant-based milks you'll find in the grocery store are lactose-free.

But some consumers have decided to turn away from dairy milk not because they're lactose intolerant but because dairy production can be bad for the environment. But environmentally conscious consumers should be aware that not every non-dairy milk is created equally when it comes to the "green" factor.

Oat milks like Oatly have a less significant negative impact on the environment than other alternatives like almond milk (which actually has a pretty significant negative impact). In fact, it takes one-sixth of the water to grow a pound of oats as it does to grow a pound of almonds. Therefore, if you want to do something positive for the environment through your plant milk selection, oat milk is the way to go.

Oatly even makes ice cream

There's no denying that Oatly is most famous for its plant-based milks. But there are so many other dairy products that lactose-intolerant people miss out on. In fact, some may even argue that secondary dairy products — not milk alone — are more difficult to cut out of some people's diets. But don't worry because Oatly has still got you covered if you've got a sweet tooth but dairy does bad things to your digestive system.

That's because Oatly released a complete line of oat milk ice creams in 2019, and plant-milk lovers everywhere rushed out to try the new releases. Mostly, it got pretty good reviews, considering it's ice cream made from actual oats.

Catherine Lamb of The Spoon had this to say in her review: "Creamy, smooth and rich — though it wouldn't fool me into thinking it's real ice cream. The texture is thick and scoopable, and significantly better than other alternative milk ice creams I've tried, even other oat-based ones. But the flavor is a bit off."

If you want to try it for yourself, you can head to the frozen section of your local Target (if your local store is lucky enough to stock it). Choose the original flavor or go for something more adventurous with coffee, chocolate, strawberry, mint chip. Our opinion? The flavored ice creams are better because they tend to cover up the taste of the oats a bit more. They could be sweeter, though.

You can also find Oatly with the yogurt

It's not just the milk, and it's not just the ice cream. Anyone who's ever wanted to dig into a fruit parfait or top their food off with a dollop of yogurt might be disappointed if they're lactose intolerant or choose to be vegan. Those individuals may feel as if they have to give up on yogurt forever. But now that Oatly's around, they don't have to.

Oatly recently released its own version of yogurt, which the company charmingly calls "Oatgurt." As you can imagine, people were pretty excited to try it out when it first came onto the scene. After all, Oatly claimed that the product tasted "just like normal yogurt" and that it offered a "similar creamy consistency."

It comes in four flavors, including plain, Greek style, blueberry, and strawberry. With all those options, you can make just about any kind of yogurt-based dish you want. Just a warning, though: You may not be able to find these yogurt products in your area yet. If you can't, just keep looking at your local grocery store to see if they pop up anytime soon.

Pretty much everyone agrees that Oatly sells the best oat milk

Now that oat milk is gaining in popularity, you'll find it more and more in grocery store aisles and at your favorite coffee shops. And a ton of different companies are jumping on the oat milk bandwagon. For example, the well-known plant-based brand Silk came out with a product called Oat Yeah. The super-popular Califia Farms has come out with its own unsweetened oat milk. And you can even find Coffee Mate getting in on the hype with an oat milk coffee creamer.

With all of these options, though, there's one brand that clearly stands above the rest: Oatly. Epicurious listed it as their favorite, as did Brit+Co. So have tons of others on the internet who profess their love for the oaty beverage spiking our morning coffees. And we have to agree. While it doesn't taste exactly like cow's milk, it has an unmistakably pleasant flavor and creamy texture we can't get enough of.

It may be unusual for a company to so clearly stand out above the rest, but it does make sense considering that Oatly has been in the game for a while. While the competition continues to emerge, it looks like Oatly is holding strong for now.

Oatly is being boycotted

Most vegan, supposedly earth-friendly brands like Oatly largely rely on their reputations as "ethical" companies. Younger, more politically active consumers are looking for ways to vote with their dollar, and they often don't want to support brands that don't take ethics seriously.

At first, Oatly seemed like it was on the right path. Some of the attraction to oat milk, after all, is the fact that it's supposed to be better for the environment. However, Oatly is now in hot water after selling a stake of the company to Blackstone, a private equity consortium that has made headlines for alleged involvement in the deforestation of the Amazon. Additionally, its founder, Stephen Schwarzman, has reportedly donated to Donald Trump and the Republican party — something else some Oatly consumers take issue with.

While Oatly has claimed the partnership was a measured decision they believed would lead to strides forward for the plant-based movement, many consumers aren't buying it. Social media activists are taking to Twitter to explain why they won't be buying Oatly's products for now. 

Oatly is gluten-free ... in the U.S.

These days, scientists know more about gluten than ever before. It's a protein that you'll find in some breads and other grain products. Some people can't eat gluten because of a digestive issue known as Celiac disease, and others have sensitivities to glutens. For these people, finding gluten-free products is essential. Many can't have even traces of gluten in their diets without getting very ill.

Unfortunately, Oatly contains too much gluten to be appropriately labeled gluten-free in the U.K., so those with Celiac might want to find a different milk alternative option. But for those in the U. K. who simply try to avoid gluten whenever possible, Oatly isn't something that you'll have to give up anytime soon.

According to the company's website, Oatly contains little gluten — so little, in fact, that it can be labeled "very low gluten." That means that it contains less than 100 ppm of gluten. So, even those trying to reduce their gluten intake won't have to take a break from the creamy, delicious dairy alternative they love.

If you live in the U.S., though, you're officially in luck. Oatly in the States is produced with certified gluten-free oats, which allows the company to actually label the product as gluten-free.

Oatly wasn't the first company to offer oat milk in the U.S.

For most people, the first time they ever heard of oat milk was when they were introduced to Oatly. It's almost certainly the most recognizable oat milk brand out there. Therefore, it would just make sense to assume that it was the first commercially available oat milk brand in the U.S. However, you might be surprised to learn that that's not actually the case.

Prior to Oatly's grand entrance into the U.S. marketplace, there was one company that was selling oat milk: Pacific. However, it wasn't widely recognized as a viable non-dairy option. Former general manager and now president of Oatly's North American division Mike Messersmith went so far as to say, "No one in America had heard of oat milk two years ago. The category didn't exist."

That might sound like a dig to Pacific, which had already been selling its oat milk product for some time. But let's be honest: Oatly really did bring the alternative milk onto the scene, and we can't deny that the company is responsible for the new drink's widespread success.