Grain Millers' origins began in Eugene, Oregon, over thirty years ago as a major supplier of animal feed for the horse racing industry in California.
"The reason it started in Eugene, Oregon, of all places, was because there was a horse [racing] market in California and the Willamette Valley of Oregon at the time had an excellent oat crop," Serrano told FoodNavigator-USA at the IFT show in New Orleans earlier this month.
Oats have also been a staple for many consumers, traditionally in the form of oatmeal or porridge. Oats have maintained a health halo with consumers for decades since becoming the first single food product allowed by the FDA to make a health claim in 1996 (i.e. 'may reduce the risk of heart disease'), which led to an oat bran (the outer layer of the oat groat rich in B-vitamins, antioxidants, and soluble fiber) craze around the same time period, according to Serrano.
"That was kind of a watershed moment for the food industry as a whole," Serrano said.
Despite the health claim, oats have maintained a fairly low profile since the late '90s until relatively recently, as food and beverage producers have begun recognizing their potential outside of oatmeal, cereals, and bars.
According to Serrano, the recent interest in oat-based beverages has Grain Millers increasing its supply capabilities and selling to the food industry at all times of the year.
Oats demand year-round
In North America, oats are typically grown as a spring crop and harvested in late summer to early fall depending on when the oats reach an ideal moisture level of around 15%. What was once a food sold more frequently in the winter months has evolved into an ingredient with increasing market demand all year-round from food manufacturers, according to Serrano.
"Oats have been traditionally associated with porridge and porridge has been associated with weather, so seasonality was a big factor in our factories and our mills because we seemed to gear up year after year towards the winter season," said Serrano.
However, now with the oat-based beverage industry growing at a strong pace, Grain Millers' is ramping up supply capabilities year round, noted Serrano. A number of major food companies such as Quaker and Danone North America (Silk Oat Yeah) have launched their own lines of oatmilk nationwide, while Sweden-based Oatly has established a production plant in the US market.
USDA data from this year shows that oat yields are expected to reach 66.7 million acres by May 2020, while harvest yields for other grain crops including barley, sorghum, and corn are either stable or projected to decline over the same time period.
For oatmilk producers, Grain Millers offers three varieties of whole oat flour with varying levels of viscosity and oat flavor. The company's low viscosity oat flour, for example, is milled through a proprietary process that creates a pre-gel flour providing consistent viscosity throughout the heating and cooling cycles with a flavor more consistent with traditional oat ingredients.
All the whole oat flours are made from the entire oat kernel with the bran layer intact making it a good source of dietary fiber and essential minerals and all can be labeled as 100% Oats on the label, according to Grain Millers.
Within the oats-based food and beverage market, Grain Millers has poured a lot of time and effort into its gluten-free oat program. Although oats are naturally gluten-free, they can easily come into contact with gluten-containing grains. Grain Millers' proprietary testing process ensures that its oat ingredients are always under the regulatory limit of 20 ppm (parts per million), often times achieving <10 ppm, the supplier claims.
Grain Millers can also meet non-GMO and organic certification specifications for its customers, added Serrano.