Entrepreneur aiming to take oat milk to the world

Otis Oat Milk managing director Tim Ryan surveys a crop of oats before harvesting. Photo: Vaughan Brookfield
Otis Oat Milk managing director Tim Ryan surveys a crop of oats before harvesting. Photo: Vaughan Brookfield
We've all heard of milking a goat - but how about an oat?

Dunedin entrepreneur Tim Ryan is going against the grain of producing traditional dairy-based milk.

Mr Ryan is managing director of startup Otis Oat Milk - New Zealand's first oat milk producer - and has big plans to take oat milk to the world, as a ''true millennial brand'' that caused disruption.

But first, he wanted the company to build its foundation in New Zealand; already it had a cafe network in Dunedin, Christchurch and Wellington ready to offer oat milk in their flat whites, or, as Otis was branding them, a ''flat oat''. The plan was to expand to 300 cafes by the end of this year.

Originally from Canterbury, Mr Ryan came from an advertising agency background. He spent 10 years in Europe working for Nike and a bunch of consumer-trend millenial brands running their advertising globally.

He returned home two years ago, wanting to ''do something a little better for New Zealand'', and with the oat milk idea in mind.

He had consumed oat milk overseas and the product was the fastest growing dairy-free milk available, he said.

The global non-dairy milk market was expected to reach revenues of more than $US38billion ($NZ58billion) by 2024.

While there were many plant-based alternatives, such as soy, almond, coconut and rice milk, none were grown locally.

Yet New Zealand had a long-standing tradition of growing some of the world's best oats. That export market was largely untapped so there was ''enormous'' opportunity for New Zealand to capitalise on that, he said.

Mr Ryan, who also has a farming background, said he disliked seeing the mass conversions of dairy farms on the Canterbury Plains. Oat milk production required significantly lower environmental inputs than dairying, he said.

''We started Otis with a clear vision to help New Zealand diversify its agriculture sector. A thriving oat milk market will help free the country from an over-reliance on dairying and the commodity price trap, moving instead to a high-value, more sustainable plant-based future,'' he said.

Oat milk contained about half as much fat as dairy milk and was high in the soluble fibre beta-glucan, which aided in reducing cholesterol, particularly the type associated with increased risk of heart disease, he said.

The creation of Otis followed 18 months market validation work to assess demand for oat milk and potential markets it could be exported to.

Oats were sourced directly from farms in Otago and Southland and processed at FoodSouth's facility at Lincoln.

The next six months was all about scaling-up and Otis would be looking to invest in a building plant. That could likely be anywhere from Christchurch to Dunedin, Mr Ryan said.

While Otis was the first New Zealand oat milk producer, he was aware others were chasing the same market. He expected Otis would have competitors and he welcomed that.

Already, there had been a lot of interest and a ''really good buzz'' around Otis.

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