2020 marked the year that oat milk surpassed almond to become the UK’s most popular plant-based milk. According to Mintel, British consumers spent £146m on oat milk that year, compared to £105m on almond.
Oat milk is amongst the most sustainable of the plant-based milk alternatives. On a litre for litre basis, oat milk is responsible for 75% fewer CO2 emissions and a fraction of the water and land compared to dairy production.
Greater uptake of plant-based dairy alternatives is could therefore prove a positive for environmental sustainability. Yet UK start-up Overherd is concerned at the rate of progress. According to the company, faster action needs to be taken to prevent ‘our love of milk from harming the already fragile climate system’.
In response, Overherd has developed a ‘just add water’ powdered oat milk product to reduce packaging by 90%, with implications for related transport emissions.
“The environmental impact of dairy production is becoming more well-known, and it’s great to see so many switching to plant milks. However, we think you can do one better in terms of sustainability,” said founder Sandy Eyre.
Less packaging, fewer transport emissions
The Yorkshire based start-up’s ‘just add water’ solution allows consumers to mix their oat milk at home. Overherd is trading in conventional milk cartons for a lightweight pouch, with each unit capable of producing eight litres of instant oat milk, ‘on demand’.
Eliminating the 90% water sold in conventional, store-bought plant-based milks makes sense, suggested Eyre. “Plant milk is a bit like blackcurrant squash – it wouldn’t make sense to buy squash pre-mixed. It would be super bulky and packaging intensive. We think the same applies to plant milk, which is why we focus on the oat concentrate, the part that provides the flavour and nutrition.”
Overherd is manufacturing the oat milk powder itself, in collaboration with its UK production partner, and selling it in a lightweight plastic pouch which is 100% recyclable. On a litre for litre basis, Overherd’s offering represents a 91% packaging weight reduction compared to cartons. Being lighter and less bulky means its products also translate to a reduction in transport emissions.
“We chose to use recyclable plastic after we conducted a study which found that compostable/biodegradable can actually be worse for the environment if not properly disposed on,” Eyre told FoodNavigator.
“Our aim is to launch a compostable pouch in the future as a second option for those with access to compost heaps.”
‘Taste, look, texture is very similar to carton oat milk’
Another sustainability benefit associated with oat milk powder is reduced food waste, according to Overherd. It is estimated that more than 490m pints (270m litres) of milk are thrown away each year in the UK alone, which is likely linked to milk’s relatively short lifespan.
Carton oat milk has a longer shelf life than conventional dairy. Yet the shelf life of Overherd’s offering is longer still. “Carton oat milk shelf life is typically two months if unopened, but once opened it needs to be consumed within seven days,” the founder explained.
“The shelf life of our oat milk powder is one year. Once opened, it is good for six months although technically it could last longer being a dried product.”
As to whether Overherd’s powdered oat milk product offers the same functionality as carton-packaged, pre-mixed oat milk, the founder admitted that in powder form, ‘some functionality is lost’.
However, the product still has ‘good all-round functionality’ as an alternative to carton oat milk, we were told. “It can be mixed straight into hot drinks [and] we are looking to launch more specialised barista versions in the future.
“The taste, look, texture is similar to carton oat milk.”
The company expects the product will be most popular amongst consumers who want to be more sustainable. It will also be suitable to camping and travel markets, explained Eyre, where “it doesn’t make sense to carry heavy cartons”.
Other customers are expected to include smaller foodservice cafes looking to offer a plant-based milk option, and infrequent users of oat milk, for whom buying a whole carton ‘doesn’t make sense’. The product is also designed for use as an ‘emergency cupboard supply’, for when milk in the fridge runs out.
Overherd plans to launch its powdered oat milk product at the end of the week. Initially, the company will sell D2C nationwide, but will be looking to expand its geographical range into Europe in the future.