Oatly! Chocolate Milk

overall rating:

2.1

planets

Bethan Callow
7/11/2021
No items found.

As someone who can’t drink milk, finding a sustainable and enjoyable alternative is important to me. Oatly provides a series of oat-based alternatives to milk products including milks, yoghurts, and cream. That they use oats rather than a more water intensive ingredient like soya (which I’m also allergic to!) is good to see. It tastes better than many nut milks and definitely tastes better than soya milk. Overall, I would definitely recommend Oatly as a company and I would recommend their Oat Drink Chocolate for being a transparent, fairly sustainable product. The packaging could be improved and Oatly needs to address their transport issues, but I was impressed at how easily they provided this information. Stats on their carbon footprint were easy to find and were broken down into different sections. An impressive product in terms of climate sustainability but I would like to see some more in terms of social ventures and more about how they treat their workers at farm-level. 

What it's made of:

2.5

Ingredients according to Oatly’s website: Oat base (water, oats 10%), sugar 3,5%, cocoa powder 1%, rapeseed oil, calcium carbonate, calcium phosphates, salt, flavouring, vitamins (D2, riboflavin, B12), potassium iodide.

I was impressed to see that Oatly has a ‘where do the ingredients come from?’ section on each of their products. The oats, rapeseed oil, vanilla flavour and sugar come from Sweden and Finland which is where the company is based so will have low carbon miles. In contrast, the Alpro Oat Chocolate website (a competitor to Oatly) doesn’t have information on where the ingredients come from. It has a generic sustainability section but very limited info on where the ingredients are sourced and by whom. In comparison, Oatly has done a lot better at being transparent.

However, some of the ingredients, such as the cocoa powder, comes from as far as Nigeria, Cameroon, Ivory Coast and Ghana. This would mean high carbon miles, but it was good to see how transparent Oatly is as a company as to who their partners and where they get their ingredients from.

Interestingly, ‘Givaudan’ (the supplier of the flavouring) is unwilling to provide the source of their ingredients. Oatly says that they are ‘discussing this with them. Check back soon’. In order to keep holding Oatly accountable to high sustainability standards, we should check to see if this changes and follow them up on their promise. Perhaps they should find a more transparent partner to provide the ingredient. Givaudan itself claims that they are sustainable but provides no information about where they get their materials even in their 103-page 2020 sustainability report.

Depending on where in the world you are as a consumer, the ingredients are sourced differently. For their US consumers, the oats and rapeseed oil are grown and sourced from the US and Canada. The oat base is also made in the US. This is so good to see! Oatly have clearly tried to source their ingredients local to where their consumers are. This will have a big impact on their carbon miles. However, some ingredients come from further afield (like the cocoa powder which comes from the Netherlands). My question to Oatly is, why does UK oat milk have cocoa powder from Nigeria, Cameroon, etc. and American oat milk has cocoa powder from the Netherlands? Wouldn’t it be more sustainable to make the UK oat milk with the cocoa powder from the Netherlands? On a closer look at ‘Olam’ (the cocoa powder provider) it seems that not all of their cocoa powder does come from the Netherlands, as that’s just where the company is based.

The use of rapeseed oil is commonplace in most non-dairy milks in order to make it have a creamier texture. However, rapeseed is often grown in monoculture which is inherently unsustainable. It is also grown with nitrogen fertilisers which gets washed into rivers and water supplies. It would be good to see how Oatly deals with these issues.

According to Oatly’s sustainability report from 2020, the climate impact from their ingredients went down by 17% from 2019. Considering their transparency in the rest of their website, this is believable, and they showed that this decrease came from sourcing their oats from lower impact countries. I also appreciated that they included their goal for 2021 which is to use ‘climate-efficient fertilizers’. At the end of this year, I will check to see if this goal has been tackled. 

How it's made:

1.5

One of the main issues with Oatly’s chocolate oat milk is the packaging. As with all their milk alternatives, they use paperboard Tetra Pak cartons which is traceable back to the forest it was grown. The aluminium inside the carton and the polymer cap is not recyclable and definitely not made from renewable sources. The packaging is not compostable and isn’t recyclable everywhere. It depends on your zip code in America and your local council in the UK. This needs to be addressed. The cap may take 400-500 years to decompose and will end up in landfill if not recycled.

Transport was another aspect of Oatly’s milk that I had an issue with. Their climate impact went up by 79% from 2019. 52% of their greenhouse gas emissions from transport came from distribution to Asia. Oatly justified this because of a growing customer base across the world. They have plans to start up production in Asia which should hopefully drive this number down.

A positive note was the introduction of a fleet of electric trucks to distribute in Sweden. This partnership with Einride is a good step but a much more important step would be to sort out their international shipping emissions. Local distribution is much less of a problem than international distribution which has far more of an impact in terms of carbon emissions.

Who makes it:

2

Oatly have a fairly balanced women-to-men ration throughout the company with 52%-48% split of all employees and a 33%-67% split on their board. The board seems unbalanced but it is an improvement from 2019 where only 10% of the board were women. It is good to see them tackling the issue of gender balance and diversity within their company.

Unfortunately, the same couldn’t be said for racial equity. There was no info on what they are doing to reduce the impact of systemic racism within the company.

Oatly was fairly lacking in how they pursue local initiatives and support communities. Their main focus seems to be tackling the climate crisis so there was a distinct lack of info on social justice and ethical labour. That being said, they have set up a website called help-dad.com which is to support young people in explaining the Climate Crisis to their parents. They also set up the Silent Barista programme in China which helped to train hearing-impaired people to become baristas.

Oatly has a very clear set of sustainable and environmentally friendly values which pervades the whole website and every one of their products. They have a carbon footprint on each carton of oat milk (0.35 kg CO2e per kg for the chocolate oat milk) which demonstrated this. Their long-term goals are sustainable, and they are the one of the most transparent companies when it comes to sourcing their ingredients that I’ve seen.

One thing that has tarnished Oatly’s name over the past few years is that one of their investors is Blackstone. The $200 million deal was agreed in July 2020. Blackstone also invested in Hidrovias which had links to deforestation in the Amazon through their infrastructure plans. Oatly defended itself by arguing that for sustainable industries to grow, we have to encourage non-sustainable companies to invest in them so the market for sustainable products grows. I agree that in our capitalist market this is the only way the demand for sustainable goods will grow. However, Oatly could look into finding a better, more transparent, investor.