The food industry is in the midst of an upheaval. Consumers, increasingly concerned about the environment and sustainability, are demanding more and more animal-free products. And while there is a growing appreciation of local and organic ingredients, there is also a rising demand for quick and easy foods that suit the rhythm of our hectic lives.
Whenever consumer habits are changing, there is an opening for innovative newcomers. Enter Oatlaws.
The Finnish company is creating a lineup of nutritionally rich, oat-based products. Its drinkable oats are an instant alternative to the traditional oatmeal, and the firm also makes oats protein powder and oats granola. Later this year, it will launch other oat-based products, including protein puddings and shakes.
“Oats are pretty much the ideal ingredient,” says Teppo Ylä-Hemmilä, CEO of Oatlaws. “They have loads of positive nutritional qualities with practically no negative ones.”
“Since oats don’t have a strong taste, they are also very versatile and can be used for many purposes. And oats are a more sustainable ingredient than most nut or plant-based alternatives.”
If first you don’t succeed…
Ylä-Hemmilä is no stranger to oats, coming from a family of bakers that runs the bakery Viipurilainen Kotileipomo. In 2016, they launched Puhtikaura, an oats powder that could be mixed with water or milk for an instant breakfast, snack or workout drink. Puhtikaura took off big time (it won the 2016 Finnish Food of the Year award) and opened new doors for its creators.
“Oatlaws was born as a kind of a spinoff,” Ylä-Hemmilä says. “We received a lot of enquiries from abroad, so we decided to take the concept further and develop a distinct brand around it.”
The firm was founded in 2017 but took a while to find its approach. “We hadn’t quite understood how important it is for new products to fit into existing product categories,” Ylä-Hemmilä says. “Our first products ended up on the health and wellbeing shelves, and didn’t find their target audience.”
After a rethink of its product line and revamp of its brand, Ylä-Hemmilä is convinced that Oatlaws is now prepared for the limelight. The first signs are promising: in March at the 2019 World Food Innovation Awards, the firm’s oat chocolate protein pudding was shortlisted in the best plant-based product category, while its oat ice cream won the award for best frozen food.
Brand identity key
The company’s products are currently featured by only a few shops in Finland, but after the summer their distribution will expand to a national level. Beyond Finland, Oatlaws aims to enter the Swedish market early next year and, from there, expand more generally to Northern Europe.
In the food industry, being a small newcomer is a challenge in many ways since the field is dominated by big players, Ylä-Hemmilä says. “You really have to prove that your products bring something new to their product categories. Otherwise shops won’t put them on the selves.”
He notes that vegan products often leave a lot to be desired. “Especially vegan on-the-go products tend to have poor nutritional values, or just taste bland. We aim to lift them to the same level of quality with milk-based products.”
Oatlaws also aims to develop a distinct brand – one that Ylä-Hemmilä describes as “daring, gutsy and nutritionally rich”. To spread the message, the company will focus particularly on social media marketing and target micro-influencers, such as sports coaches, physiotherapists and other wellness professionals.
“In the past you could more easily buy visibility with money. It’s not so easy anymore,” Ylä-Hemmilä says. “But with a strong brand, good products and the right marketing approach, even a small company can break through.”