Oatly is a Swedish oat-based dairy alternative brand, which in 2020, cumulatively produced 299 million litres of milk, ice-cream, yogurt, creme fraiche, etc. (the list goes on and on). The brand’s success, at least to me, makes sense - the Oatly branding is sick, the products are DELICIOUS and the company’s values seem genuinely both environmentally and socially progressive. To remind you, Oatly is the kick-ass company who campaigned against and overturned the European Parliament’s ‘Amendment 171’, which aimed to prohibit all dairy-related language from plant-based dairy packaging. However, Oatly is also the company whose CEO was scandalously found to have shares in companies which contribute to Amazonian deforestation, so I will remember to be balanced in this review.
One thing is for sure that when it comes to texture and taste, this greek oatgurt is totally amazing, especially considering it is dairy free! I had been vegan for 2 skyr-deprived years until I found the oatgurt (yes - it will stay in the tub when you tip it upside down) and while I only buy a tub or two a month, I am OBSESSED. The only issue is that the tub is too small!
Speaking of the tub, a visually obvious positive is that the carbon footprint of the product is printed on the front of the tub. These calculations are based on the entire product lifecycle (woohoo), from ingredients to transport. The carbon footprint of this product is 0.69 kg CO2e / kg, compared to 2.9 kg CO2e / kg for an average cow’s milk greek yogurt.
However, the website ‘admits’ in a cringe-worthy way that the only ‘less amazing’ thing about this product is that it contains some ingredients which are hard to pronounce, but I can tell you now that that isn't the only thing...
Overall, in my opinion, Oatly is a progressive example of how a global organisation can be run with both success and environmental-social responsibility in mind. I feel these values are reflected in their annual sustainability report, which is a joy to read. The fact that 62% of current employees stated that sustainability was their motivation for seeking a job at Oatly also represents the company’s commitment to environmental progressivism. Oatly are transparent about how they run their operations and are at times frank about where they could be doing more. They state that they will use knowledge overtime ‘to find the sustainability sweet spot’, and are prepared to fund the pursuit of this knowledge because they believe in their vision for ‘empowering a plant-based revolution’.
All I will say is, if you work at Oatly and read this review, thank you for the oatgurt.
The Oatgurt is made of water, oats (11%), rapeseed oil, potato starch, potato protein, malic and lactic acid, pectin stabiliser, calcium carbonate, calcium phosphate, potassium iodide, salt, and vitamins D2 and B12.
From a health perspective, this product is a healthy and nutritious alternative to dairy-based yogurt. The oatgurt is low in saturated fats (maintains healthy blood cholesterol), low in added sugar, and relatively high in plant protein (3.3g per 100g). The oatgurt is also enriched with vitamin D, vitamin B, calcium and iodine, which in turn are vital for cell function, ion regulation, strong bones, and thyroid function respectively. Greek oatgurt is even high in fibre!
From an environmental perspective, a major positive is that the oatgurt is made of...OATS. These oats are Swedish grown by Lantmannen Cerealia, which is a sustainable organisation. The company aims to grow wheat with a 30% lower environmental impact and turns the shells from the oats into electricity to run their factories, as well as 3000 homes in nearby communities. The fact that the oatgurt is oat based is preferable to animal based dairy yogurt. A study by the Research Institute of Sweden found that replacing cow’s milk with oat milk, and by extension oatgurt, greenhouse gas emissions can be reduced by 80%, land use by 79% and energy consumption by 60%. Oatly Corp. is actually opening a new innovation centre at Lund University to further explore the potential of oats and ‘drive a societal shift towards a plant-based food system for the benefit of people and the planet’. Across the entire supply chain in 2020, 84% of the ingredients purchased by Oatly was oats. This is a good thing because the oats are locally sourced (to Sweden) by, at least what seems, a legitimately sustainable company.
On the Oatly website, there is genuine transparency on where all the ingredients come from in terms of origin and supplier. Some ingredients, like the oats and rapeseed oil, are only sourced from suppliers within Swede. However, other ingredients, like the section and vitamins, are sourced from multiple suppliers across a range of origins (France, Middle East, Asia, Brazil, Mexico). While I think that it is great that the website displays this clear information on ingredient origin, it could be improved by providing an environmental rating for each of the suppliers and of course increasing the local sourcing of the ingredients.
To note, Oatly have taken steps towards this issue by pledging to reduce their climate footprint by 70% from a 2019 baseline by 2029 to align with the 1.5’ climate pathway. Unfortunately, so far Oatly has not managed to decrease its climate impact across many sectors of its business. This is of course in part due to the fact that the company increased their production volume by 81% between 2019 and 2020. They also improved their emissions reporting protocol which has had an increasing effect of the numerical data. However, it is important to remember that it’s amazing that all this information is made available to the public, and that Oatly is not shying away from presenting its data. I do believe that the company is trying to reduce its climate impact but has just not managed to show concrete statistical progress yet due to the rapid and immense growth that the company is currently experiencing.
There isn't a wealth of information online about how the actual oatgurt product is made, however, a general picture can be pieced together from the information that is available. While this isn't ideal, as it would be preferable for all such information to be readily available, the Oatly website does state that customers can get in touch with any questions that they might have.
There is, however, very clear information on the climate impact of the Oatly production, and the company is continuously publishing updated figures on their emission behaviours. The current climate impact per litre of oat product figure is 0.558 CO2e. This is significantly better than the same figure for cow’s milk which is around 1.39 CO2e. Also, the climate impact of the ingredients used decreased by 17% in 2020.
A major plus on the production front is that 100% of all the leftovers from Oatly products’ production are repurposed. This is in line with Oatly’s goal for ‘resource efficiency’. The insoluble oat fibre waste products have a high nutritional value and are used for pig feed (in Landskrona), biogas (in Vlissingen), and fertiliser (in Millville). In fact, Oatly, with funding from the Swedish Government agency for innovation, is currently researching how to turn these fibre residues into actual food. However, the research is still underway, and the current findings are ‘top secret’.
A positive aspect is that the container can be recycled as ‘paper’ and the lid can be recycled as ‘plastic’. 87% of the Oatly packaging is made from renewables sources and is recyclable. However, there is room for improvement here as the packaging could be made from plant-based materials, an idea which has been contemplated by Oatly.
Also, in their investors report, Ambition 3 of Oatly is to produce all their products from factories which meet ‘Future Factory’ criteria, meaning the facilities meet sustainable, efficient, safe, and inclusive standards.
Again, here Oatly doesn't go into huge detail on which workers specifically produce the oatgurt product but they do provide a comprehensive analysis of their workers’ current labour situations in their annual investors report. In 2020, The gender diversity is equally matched across all employees and in team manager roles, however it is skewed towards males at the leadership and board level, which could be worked on. In 2020, 77% of the Oatly employees feel they can ‘be [their] authentic and whole sel[ves] at work’ and 75% ‘feel included and respected at work. This data is in line with Oatly’s goal to be 100% free from discrimination in their work environment.
Also, Oatly does provide information on the farmers from whom they source the raw ingredients for the oatgurt. This is in line with their goal for ‘super suppliers’, who play an integral part in helping the company reach its sustainability goals. Swedish farmers are also a large part of the oatgurt production, as they supply the oats. It seems that Oatly is genuinely engaged in improving farming practises, from both an environmental and social standpoint. For example, Oatly funds sustainable farming initiatives and produce sresearch findings. In their ‘future goals’, Oatly also has pledged to improve biodiversity and boost the income of their farmers.
One improvement which could be made in this respect is to enhance the information on the workers throughout the entire supply chain, especially workers in global south countries, from whom some of the more specific ingredients are sourced.