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New alternative milk drink Oatside tastes like Horlicks, Ovaltine and Milo, says the brand’s founder, Singaporean Benedict Lim. He’s counting on that to appeal to Asian consumers. Photo: Oatside

Oat milk drink Oatside tastes like Horlicks, Ovaltine and Milo – and the brand’s founder is counting on that familiarity for Asians to overtake giants like Oatly

  • A new Asian player has moved in on the oat milk market, with a taste many Asians will recognise from Horlicks, Ovaltine and Milo
  • Oatside’s founder, Singaporean Benedict Lim, explains. It’s ‘something creamy, milky, but with a smooth and easy aftertaste’, he says

Singaporean Benedict Lim, the founder of start-up brand Oatside, is not entering the oat milk market lightly or timidly – he is a serious Asian player who plans to be all in on the alternative milk scene.

The former Heinz Indonesia chief financial officer has formulated an oat milk that he claims is richer and creamier than much of the competition. He is also manufacturing his drink entirely in Asia – there is a production plant in West Java, Indonesia, and all the oats are sourced from Australia.

“The biggest challenge is you’re a completely new company with no product,” Lim says of starting from nothing. “Setting up your own production facility is pretty daunting because you need a lot of capital, and you need to have a lot of faith or courage that your product will connect with the consumer.

“I did try third-party manufacturers, but we wanted to do an extraction process in a very specific way requiring a specific set-up – to create a very differentiated product from what’s available. The problem was they couldn’t do it.

Benedict Lim is the founder and CEO of Oatside. Photo: Oatside

“We decided to go down the painful route of building our own and raising the money to do it. It took us more than a year. Now, Oatside can create a product that we are really proud of.”

Industry studies suggest the global oat milk market – of which Asia-Pacific held the largest revenue share in 2020 – will grow at a compound annual rate of 14.2 per cent, with a value of US$6.45 billion by 2028.

Oatside is available in 11 countries across Asia, and popular coffee shop chains such as Arabica and Flash Coffee use it as their preferred oat milk. Not bad for a label that started in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, and whose first shipment of oat milk only rolled out in December 2021.

“We were surprised at how positive the reception was,” says Lim. “So many people liked it, across many different markets – not only in supermarkets, but in cafes.”

Oatside’s launch in Hong Kong featured a wine sommelier advising guests on how to swirl their milk glasses and better taste the drink’s maltiness. Photo: Instagram/@oatside

The company played up its young, hip credentials at Oatside’s launch in Hong Kong earlier this month, pimping up its event venue with decorations featuring its Hawaiian-shirt-wearing bear mascot. It also had a wine sommelier advising guests on how to swirl their milk glasses and better taste the drink’s maltiness.

A barista created latte art to further show Oatside’s versatility and superior froth, and egg tarts, sweet custard buns and other snacks made with oat milk were served.

“The special property about our milk is the oat starch which gives it that fullness that soy or almond milk might not give. Soy can be quite ‘beany’,” Lim says. “When you mix it with tea or coffee, almond milk is also watery. Most almond drinks only have about two per cent almond so it doesn’t have that fullness of flavour. Our products have 10 per cent oats.”

Oatside uses no refined sugar. The plain oat milk is sugar-ree, while the chocolate and chocolate hazelnut versions contain small amounts of natural palm sugar. Photo: Instagram/@oatside

In general, oat milk is preferred as a milk alternative over nut-based drinks in coffee thanks to its neutral flavour and creamier texture. To differentiate his product, Lim leans heavily on the Asian palate and the collective familiarity with malty drinks like Horlicks, Ovaltine and Milo.

“Many of us in Asia grew up with those drinks. That’s why Oatside’s maltiness is so familiar. I feel that food is all about familiarity and memories. What you taste in your childhood, you associate good memories with it. That can really bring joy to someone.

“I’m also a huge foodie,” Lim adds. “I drink coffee and I love it with oat milk. I felt like there was a window to create something that was more suited to the Asian palate – something creamy, milky, but with a smooth and easy aftertaste that you could drink not just with coffee but also on its own.”

Oatside leans heavily on the Asian palate and the collective familiarity with malty drinks like Horlicks, Ovaltine and Milo. Photo: Instagram/@oatside
There are no stabilisers, gums or emulsifiers to prevent separation in Oatside drinks. Photo: Oatside

Oatside uses no refined sugar. The plain oat milk – branded as Barista Blend – is sugar-free, while the chocolate and chocolate hazelnut versions contain small amounts of natural palm sugar. Lim recommends shaking Oatside cartons vigorously before pouring since there are no stabilisers, gums or emulsifiers to prevent separation.

“I’m very taste driven. That’s why I thought it was mind-blowing that something healthy and also sustainable could taste so delicious. Our mission is to create plant-based milk for people who don’t care for plant-based milk. We just want to deliver good-tasting products that people just drink because it’s delicious.”

The next big challenge is to expand consumer awareness and market growth. To be sustainable in the long term, Lim knows he will need to go big to compete with the industry’s behemoths, like Swedish brand Oatly.

Oatside’s launch in Hong Kong had decorations featuring the company’s Hawaiian-shirt-wearing bear mascot in Hong Kong. Photo: Instagram/@oatside
Right now, it is still somewhat of a David versus Goliath situation – but he should feel buoyed by market news from earlier this year. According to reports, a lower-priced alternative, Planet Oat, has overtaken Oatly in USA, taking 37 per cent of the US oat milk market to Oatly’s 22 per cent.

Oatside might use a bear as its logo, but Lim is bullish about how far his product can go. “Definitely the bigger we grow, the more efficient we become, giving us more economy of scale, and the better prices we can give consumers.

“The current challenge is still that sustainable milks are more expensive than cow’s milk. The retail price of oat milk is still twice of cow’s milk across Asia. That is a problem to achieving mass adoption.

Lim is the former Heinz Indonesia chief financial officer. Photo: Oatside

“Our goal over time is to try to get it closer to cow’s milk’s price. I think five years is a good time frame where we can achieve that scale if we execute well.”

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