By Lyn Chan
SINGAPORE — Plant-based milks jostle for shelf space with cow’s milk, with new varieties of nut, grain, legume, and vegetable milk popping up every year.
Joining the fray is Oatside, a homegrown label that offers plant-based milk from — you guessed it — oats, that made its debut in Singapore's supermarkets and cafes in February.
Oatside is founded by Benedict Lim who spent six months deriving the taste he desired, and another one year to build the production line. Taste was what pushed the former Kraft Heinz executive to start the venture during the pandemic.
“(I realised) that unlike soy or almond, oat milk had a huge variance in taste and texture between different brands because of the complexity of the oat extraction process,” said the 31-year-old Singaporean who has consciously dropped dairy milk from his diet. He added his palate picked up an off-putting “barny” taste when he resumed drinking dairy milk consumption after a period of consuming oat milk.
Oatside prides itself to be one of the first “full-stack” oat milk brands to originate from this part of the world, with in-house manufacturing capabilities and full control over its sourcing and production process. Oatside is made from 100 per cent Australian oats, natural spring water, is halal-certified, and doesn't contain artificial flavours, gums, emulsifiers, preservatives, or colouring.
Family and friends gamely tasted the more than 50 versions of oat milk “including many terrible-tasting” ones, before the winner emerged, Lim said. The victor is a creamy, smooth, and malty milk, a taste that he believes is "comfortably familiar" with Asians.
His personal favourite among the three flavours? After a quick protest — “That’s like asking you to pick your favourite child, it’s an impossible question!” — he picked the Barista Blend, which beat the Chocolate and Chocolate Hazelnut variants.
According to Lim, the production of oat milk requires 90 per cent less land and water, and produces 70 per cent less emissions as compared to cow’s milk. In line with its "mission to be sustainable without tasting sustainable", Oatside sources Rainforest-Alliance certified ingredients and uses recyclable paperboard packaging (from Forest Stewardship Council certified sources).
Oatside is also sold in Indonesia, Malaysia, Taiwan, and South Korea. The company has raised S$22 million to-date, closing its pre-series A funding round in December 2020 led by Proterra Investment Partners Asia.
The self-proclaimed foodie recently spoke with Yahoo Finance Singapore about entrepreneurship and his inclination towards alternative proteins.
What is the "full-stack process", and why is it important?
We retain full control over the entire process from ingredient sourcing to the extraction of oats into milk. Since we wanted to achieve a very distinct taste and texture, we had to customise something quite specific; as opposed to using an original equipment manufacturer. Such a solution would have been much easier but would have constrained us on the product. We worked closely with many talented engineers to make this happen.
What was the biggest challenge, and how did you overcome it?
The biggest challenge was the initial fundraising process. Given we wanted to build our own dedicated production line, we had to raise an unusually large amount for a pre-series A round. There were many venture capital firms and angel investors who were uncomfortable with the large capital outlay without having a commercial product ready to go, so it was a very uncertain period since it wasn’t clear if we could even start.
Eventually, Proterra Investment Partners, a food-focused private equity fund where I had interned during my college days, connected with the vision, and decided to support us. The pre-seed funding of S$22 million subsequently fell into place – something I am incredibly grateful for.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learnt from your experience?
I used to think factories ran with just an on/off button. After spending months in the factory for commissioning, I've realised it’s a lot more complicated than that! I now have a huge amount of respect for engineers!
What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs?
Bring on the best people who can build not just what you need in the short term, but who can build the vision of the company five years out. We are a very young company with limited resources, and we were fortunate enough to be able to hire fewer but more senior people who are seasoned in their respective fields of running a consumer business. It’s made the process of scaling a lot smoother than it otherwise would be.
How much alt protein do you consume?
I find it easy to incorporate them into my diet given how significantly the taste of products is improving. A recent favourite is TiNDLE’s alt chicken. I had it as a butter chicken curry dish at the Mandala Club, and it was mind-blowingly good!
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