Oatly’s IPO: Moving the world forward through product and purpose
Reflecting on our investment in Oatly as it goes public
At Felix, we’ve been Oatly customers longer than we’ve been investors. Each Monday morning, our Felix refrigerator is freshly stocked with a carton of Organic and one Barista Edition (for the baristas among us!). As investors in consumer brands and platforms, there is no truer testament to product and brand strength than when the customer love exists within our own team.
In 2017 we had our first glimpse behind the scenes at Oatly, witnessing Toni Petersson on stage at an investor event hosted by our friends and Oatly’s early backers, Verlinvest. One of our core missions at Felix is to back mission-led brand builders pioneering massive cultural shifts in big lifestyle verticals: Toni couldn’t have been a better definition — building one of the most authentic brands, engaged communities, and ambitious visions we’ve come across.
For the following three years, we closely tracked the amplification of this unique brand and observed the explosive growth of plant-based products. We had total conviction that Oatly would define this category, and more: to start a movement by defining customers’ aspirations. In August 2020, we were lucky to come onboard Oatly’s journey in their latest round led by Blackstone Growth.
Today, Oatly goes public (under the ticker “OTLY”) at a $10bn valuation. We’re taking the chance to reflect on our investment in Oatly as an articulation of Felix thesis.
Our Felix Manifesto has existed since our inception in 2015, “To support entrepreneurs with big ideas, to help them build strong brands that stand out and that move the world forward.”
Today, it has become table stakes that brands consider sustainability as a feature of their business. Oatly’s entire vision is to build a food system that’s better for the planet, and the company leads with two values — environmentalism and health.
Traditional food production is one of the highest environmental impact industries, and Oatly is reinventing the entire value chain, from agriculture and production, to advertising and corporate policies. The side of an Oatly carton shows the incremental environmental and health impact from each unit of oat milk, a clear illustration to customers of what Oatly stands for. Says the company, “Our unwavering commitment to sustainability fuels our growth”.
The Power of Brand
At Oatly, brand is integrated into every part of the business and an embedded part of each functional team. Oatly is far from being a brand selling products. Instead their product is a values-based identity and lifestyle. It’s not just what Oatly communicates, but how — through a voice that is engaging, creative, empathetic, and funny. When you interact with the company, you feel that you’re speaking with a friend.
We love the product full stop. But there’s more to it than that. Oatly has been perfecting their product since 1995, and built a proprietary production process that is rooted in craftsmanship and innovation.
It is early days but if you think about it, it’s one of the only brands you would find on every shelf of your kitchen, from your fridge (oatgurts, Creamy Oat), to your freezer (ice cream), or your dry cupboards (oat drinks) — this is unique, and driven by genuine product creativity.
Community Sharing the Same Values as the Brand
Through this mix of product, branding, and mission, Oatly has reached a community that spans geographies, ages, demographics, and values. Now in over 20 markets in three continents, the depth of the Oatly community is as impressive as the size. Oatly has done this by focusing on community engagement from the outset. In particular, Oatly does an exceptional job of engaging Millennials and Gen Z, now the dominant global buying group, and who have shown propensity to pay for health- and purpose-driven brands.
Community has been key to how Oatly built the brand from the beginning. In 2016, when Oatly launched in the US, their first step was to build dialogue and relationships amongst tastemakers and Baristas, who then become instrumental and vocal community members driving visibility and growing brand awareness.
Meeting the Customers Where they Are
Today, Oatly is available in approximately 60,000 stores and 30,000 coffee shops globally — niche cafes, massive retailers, hotels, workspaces, and even online. Oatly is meeting the customer wherever they are, and in doing so can appeal to a mainstream audience. This approach is truly omnichannel, and completely breaks the mold of the traditional food supply chain, creating a new paradigm for how consumers interact with food brands in the future.
A Large Market that’s Not Slowing Down
Today, plant-based alternatives represent only 3% of the $600bn global dairy market. Consumers are seeking alternatives that are more environmentally friendly and human-health focused, combined with technology that has created options for appealing alternatives. As plant-based grows, the evidence shows that Oatly is a key part in driving these behavioral changes — in the UK, for example, 49% of plant-based milk growth is attributable to Oatly. We believe that the parallel growth of planted-based alternatives and the Oatly brand give Oatly a significant first-mover advantage.
At Felix, our mission is to invest at the intersection of creativity and technology. Oatly is a company rooted in science and innovation — being a true category creator for oat dairy — and also in creativity. As the company states, “Creativity is at the center of the Oatly brand”. The team has a clear vision — to grow the brand, while being relentlessly focused on people and the planet. Oatly might be the best brand globally at defining today’s customers’ aspirations. We are honored to be part of this journey.