Benedict Lim, CEO and founder of oat milk brand OATSIDE, is only 31 years old. But he has held important roles in his previous company Heinz, including Chief Financial Officer positions in Australia and Indonesia.
The self-starter claims that he has always been a huge foodie – and that’s why it led him to work with food throughout his career.
The oat milk brand has had heavy backing since its inception, suggesting strong investor interest in innovation in the plant-based food alternatives sector, and Benedict’s strong industry connections, of course.
The company has raised S$22 million to date. It closed its pre-series A funding round in December 2020, led by Proterra Investment Partners Asia.
As for the product, which took more than 50 iterations to be perfected, it has been receiving an “incredible” reception from customers, said the OATSIDE founder.“The best feeling has to be seeing positive comments coming from diehard dairy drinkers who don’t usually drink plant milk!” Benedict said.
Aside from Singapore, OATSIDE has a presence in Malaysia, Indonesia, Taiwan, and South Korea.
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“I first discovered oat milk through coffee – what intrigued me was the realisation that, unlike soy and almond milk, there is a huge variance in taste and texture across different oat milk brands, owing to the complexity of the oat extraction process. Being able to create something distinct in taste was something I found really exciting,” Benedict gushed with enthusiasm in an interview with Vulcan Post.
The CEO shared that OATSIDE was founded in May 2020. The team took 18 months to complete its research and development, build out the production facility, and lay the groundwork for the brand before finally launching in December 2021.
“Singapore is where we set up our headquarters office. Our production facility is located in Bandung, Indonesia, which is a beautiful mountainous region of Indonesia, where we have direct access to clean spring water for our production facility,” he shared.
So why oat milk? Benedict said that plant milk is less resource-intensive compared with traditional milk sources. “They use less land and water, and do not produce as much carbon emissions, but the taste is often a barrier.”
OATSIDE is on a mission to ensure a sustainable future for milk. According to environmental articles, cow’s milk, which is the most popular and accessible kind of milk, has the greatest impact on the environment.
Cow’s milk requires nine times as much land and produces three times as much carbon emissions than any non-dairy milk alternative, consumer ethics portal Brightly.eco revealed.
“The reason oat milk production is so much less resource-intensive than cow’s milk is because of how much space, water, and feed are required to raise cows. Instead of feeding grain to cows, milking the grains directly is a much more efficient process,” shared Benedict.
Unlike other plant milk which tend to overpower with beany or cardboard notes, oat milk has properties that make it very attractive, the oat enthusiast said. “Because of the starches in oat, it has more body than other plant milk. It also has a relatively neutral taste which lends itself well to coffee and other beverages as it doesn’t overpower other tasting notes.”
The company set up its own production line to have full oversight over the production process, which may be an unusual move for a newly established startup.
Benedict shared that by being full-stack, the company is able to retain full control over the entire process – from ingredient sourcing to the extraction of oats into milk. “We opted to build our own production line given the distinct taste and texture of the milk we wanted to achieve – conversely using an off-the-shelf OEM solution would have been easier but would have constrained us on the end product.”
The process of starting a drink from scratch to perfecting it was definitely not a walk in the park.
“Close to 50 different versions were made over six months, including many terrible-tasting versions all of which I subjected family, friends, and several baristas to,” the founder divulged.
Let’s not forget the looming pandemic that had beleaguered many businesses and threw a spanner in the works for others.
The pandemic impacted OATSIDE’s business plans as well, with challenges on the supply chain side and longer lead times for most tasks. “But the upside has been that people are more open to doing business over video calls, which has allowed us to sign more partnerships in multiple countries much quicker than we would have if we had done it the traditional way,” he said.
OATSIDE is currently available for purchase in major supermarkets like NTUC Fairprice and Cold Storage, on e-commerce platforms like Redmart and Shopee, and served at F&B establishments including PPP Coffee, Baker & Cook, and The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf.
On how the startup was able to get the opportunity to work with these major food players so quickly, Benedict expressed his gratitude to the business community’s willingness to onboard OATSIDE.
“We’re incredibly grateful to have found a community of partners, from distributors to key accounts, who connected with our vision and decided to join us on the journey. A winning taste has definitely been a key contributor as well to getting more people onboard,” he said.
Another reason why the product has been catching the interest of the general public is also due to its quirky branding.
It attracts curious customers who have not tried the drinks before. Because of its artwork of a bear on holiday – wearing its Hawaiian floral printed shirt and lounging around with other animal and oat friends – which makes it a standout from other plant-based drink products on the shelves.
“There’s this vibe about a bear in a Hawaiian shirt that just encapsulates the OATSIDE of Life! Our brand world is what we call The OATSIDE of Life, where we are optimistic, adult and as-is. It’s a brand world that is whimsical and yet very adult in its personality, which is probably why it has resonated with people,” said Benedict.
Creating a “living” cartoon character as the brand symbol also makes it easier for storytelling and marketing the product as the brand develops. “It’s been a journey from the very start. We’ve been fortunate to work with super talented creatives both externally and in-house. It’s something that is continuously evolving as the brand grows and takes shape,” he shared.
The OATSIDE team has since grown to 20 people across commercial, marketing, finance, and operations.
“We’re a lean and mighty team and we are on the lookout for passionate people to join our team across all the departments,” Benedict said.
The founder did not reveal the business’ sales growth and performance projections, only to say this: “For now, our immediate focus is to share OATSIDE’s oat milk with more people across Asia.”
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Featured Image Credit: OATSIDE
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