Planet Oat releases ‘milkiest’ product yet with Barista Lovers, oat milk starts 'treading water'

By Ryan Daily

- Last updated on GMT

Image Credit: Planet Oat
Image Credit: Planet Oat

Related tags Planet Oat Dairy alternatives plant-based oat milk

Planet Oat is responding to consumer demands for multi-purpose products with the release of its non-dairy Barista Lovers products, as the company focuses on innovation to spur growth in the stalled plant-based market, brand’s senior VP of marketing, Chris Ross, told FoodNavigator-USA.

"If consumers are really trying to buy products and make them stretch, as they battle with tough economic times, I think it's unreasonable to expect them to buy a product just for their coffee," Ross said. 

He explained, even though the name Barista Lovers recalls how a milk or non-dairy milk might be used in a coffee shop, and can be used to recreate cafe-style beverages at home, it "is really our milkiest product yet," and as such can be used for more than coffee, including in cereal, a smoothie or consumed on its own.

Planet Oat also follows competitors like Oatly, RISE Brewing, milkadamia, Elmhurst 1925, and others in releasing a plant-based barista-style products.

Plant-based barista products provide function for multiple occasions

When Planet Oat first launched, it intentionally didn’t release a barista product because it couldn’t at the moment meet the current consumer demands, though its regular oat milk mixed well with coffee, Ross noted. 

“You can look at certain dairy barista brands out there, and they do a wonderful job because they've understood that you have to elevate the product. Then, the plant-based product came along, and they saw an opportunity to say, ‘I'm going to innovate. I'm going to do a barista product in coffee.’ Why did they feel like they needed to do that? Well, their core item didn't perform that well in coffee. It didn't either foam or froth or steam, certainly didn't whiten favorably, [and there was] a lot of sedimentation, and so they said, ‘Let's create this barista formula to solve that gap.’”

Planet Oat will support the product launch with a marketing campaign that will feature digital advertising and a focus on sampling and getting consumers to taste the product, Ross said.

“The biggest effort that we're going to do is really sample this product and sample it in a number of different ways so that consumers ... can really appreciate that multifunctionality, but nothing will pass the test like taste. Consumers need to taste this product and understand why it's worthy of the Barista Lovers endorsement," he said. "Across all of those tactics and using a variety of ways to aggressively get this in consumers' hands, you will see it’s at the forefront of our marketing for the first six months of the year.”

How oat can go beyond 'treading water,' spur growth alongside plant-based market

Like other plant-based categories, the oat-milk category is navigating changing consumer demands and turning to innovation to spearhead growth, he said. In the adjacent plant-based meat category, failure to address consumer concerns at an affordable price became a barrier to growth, one the plant-based dairy market is trying to avoid, Ross argued.

Overall, plant-based milk gallon sales declined 7.2% for the 52 weeks ending Dec. 3, 2023, according to Circana data shared with FoodNavigator-USA. Per plant-based milk type, total soy milk gallon sales declined by 9.6% and almond milk by 9.3%, whereas oat saw a slight increase in gallons sold at 0.9% and coconut milk saw the largest gains at 8.6%. Coconut milk has enjoyed growth in cooking and recipes, but it remains a niche within plant-based milk, representing only 3% of the market, Ross noted 

“When you look at the innovation that's come out from [plant-based meat companies], are they really speaking to somebody like me a single guy that sure I'd love to do some plant-based chicken nuggets in my air fryer, or are they really talking to that mom who has three or four kids, and she's struggling to pay bills and struggling to get food on the table? Is she really going to pay an extra whatever for an even smaller package of plant-based meat when she knows that she can raise healthy happy kids and save money by serving meat?”

When it comes to plant-based milks, Ross sees an opportunity to focus on innovation that serves the consumer need as a pathway for growth. While fluid cow milk consumption has declined over the decades​ and oat milk sales have slowed, many US consumers still purchase some form of milk, he added.  

“Plant-based has stalled, even though I'm being a little kind when I say that, and the only thing that's really treading water at the moment is oat,” Ross said. “We're certainly not satisfied with that. We want to do more than tread water. We want to grow. We want to bring our products to households and have them really enjoy this, and we believe that there's still opportunity for other players within oat to do that, and for other players within almond, or even coconut.”

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