The information I’ve laid out honestly paints an ambiguous picture and I think that makes sense because very few companies or products are completely “righteous”. For this product in particular, the ingredient list is probably its biggest fault due to the use of an industrial seed oil and also a litany of added chemicals. However, it is also difficult to compare this to other oat milks or even find an alternative because it was made for the specific purpose of creating specialty drinks that require milk froth and foam. So would I have this particular Barista Edition Oat Milk in my fridge? Probably not. But I would gladly support them and ask for their Oat Milk the next time I’m at a coffee shop because of the taste and also the company’s ethics.
Pros: transparent company, ethical company, clear sustainability goals
Cons: use of industrial seed oil, many added chemicals
The main ingredients of the “Barista Edition” Oatly Oatmilk are oats and low erucic acid rapeseed oil. Do I wish they were organic oats? Yes. Oats are notorious for their high levels of glyphosate (basically, a weed killer). While there are varying arguments about how harmful glyphosate is for your health, I think it’s in all of our best interests to limit the use of unnecessary chemicals in our food. With that being said, oats make sense but what about rapeseed oil? In a statement that Oatly put out, they said that they only use oil so that the milk will froth and foam as promised and that they chose rapeseed oil due to its superior nutritional profile compared to other plant-based oils. However, what they don’t talk about is the extensive use of pesticides in growing rapeseed and how it’s actually considered a financially unstable crop for many farmers due to its low yield per hectare. All of this doesn’t even touch the tail-end of the ingredients list, which includes a myriad of phosphate compounds. While consuming phosphorous is not inherently bad, consuming it in high doses can lead to many health issues. The amount of phosphorous that would be absorbed from one serving is almost 50% of the recommended daily value.
Oatly’s production process actually looks relatively simple. It mainly encompasses mixing oats and water and breaking it down to create oat milk, adding the remaining ingredients for the different types of milk, and then heating, homogenizing, and packaging. Oatly’s packaging is also 100% recyclable and 71% made of renewable materials. In terms of how the ingredients are sourced, it’s promising to see that 100% of them come from either the United States or Canada, and that the production process is based completely in North America as well. From the company’s 2018 sustainability report, it’s clear that Oatly is trying to create a circular business model, which includes reducing water consumption and switching to completely renewable energy. While Oatly is definitely ambitious, and admirably so, I wish they would actually give us full disclosure about conditions on the farms they source from, pictures of their factories, and evidence that their workers get a living wage.
Maybe it’s Oatly’s cheeky but informative responses to customer questions, maybe it’s their high ambitions for environmental and managerial sustainability, or maybe it’s just their marketing team, but Oatly has proven to be the brand that we all want to root for. In their sustainability reports, they’re not just promising to be a good company. They lay out goals for resource efficiency, an ethical supply chain, a happy workforce, and even larger visions for changing the food system. Perhaps more impressive than their big goals is how they keeps themselves accountable by admitting their shortcomings. For example, they address each UN SDG that is relevant to their impact as a company, specifically state what their status is on that goal, and what they plan to do to achieve that goal.
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