In this week’s Farmer Focus segment, That’s Farming, speaks to Liam Lynam of Oat in the City about his new natural milked oat drink.
Oat in the City is the brainchild of Liam Lynam, a tillage and 200-ewe sheep farmer from Co Offaly.
The Durrow native, who worked in the food sector for two decades before returning to his family farm, launched his natural milked oat drink on the Irish market last month.
He holds an Agri-Business Management BSc degree from Newcastle University and previously had a six-month stint with AIB.
He participated in the IBEC EOP orientation scholarship programme with his sponsor, Kepak, where he worked in various countries as an account and commercial manager before returning to the family farm.
Speaking to That’s Farming, he said:
“I would have always looked at different food brands and different food ideas. I was always very impressed with Irish brands, e.g. Kerrygold or Bailey, travelling the world that has been synonymous with Ireland.”
“It was only the last couple of years when I was farming that I looked at different things.”
Oat in the City
Founded on Saturday, February 1st, 2020, Oat in the City [Kilbeggan Botanicals Limited] started with hemp production for two years before finding their oat food drink niche.
“With the research, we did in the Bord Bia thinking house, we came across the oat drinks and moved the focus away from hemp and focused on oats.”
“I just liked the product better, and we taught there was a bigger market opportunity for it. There was a very simple gap to be filled for a premium Irish oat drink.”
“Especially, when oats had been growing in Ireland for centuries. They have been here before the mighty spuds. So there was not that huge learning curve growing it or processing it as we had been doing that already.”
“We are more than just an Irish oat drink. Up to 95% of oat drinks out there are made from oat, syrup, or concentrates. Some of the products out there contain little or no fibre or protein. A lot of them contain a lot of sugar.”
Oat in the City employs three people. Their product range includes a 750ml original oat, a 750ml barista drink and a 250ml dairy-free chocolate flavoured drink. The 750ml original and barista drinks retail at €2.80 per bottle.
“The most popular product at the moment is our 750ml original barista. The plan is all going well to expand the flavoured range in the next couple of months.”
“We want to expand that grab and go. We have a dairy-free chocolate-flavoured drink flavour range which we want to expand. It has a huge market and huge potential and maybe an added value position for us.”
“Going forward, we think oat drinks powder is another piece of the jigsaw that we will launch into in terms of our online offering.”
Liam outlined what sets his product range apart from competitors with similar oat drinks. “Our product contains 0.3 grams of sugar per 100 grams, and some of them contain up to 0.5 grams of sugar.”
“To put that in comparison, per 100 grams, a bottle of Fanta orange contains 4.5 grams of sugar, and some of the oat drinks out there contain more than the Fanta orange.”
The product is available in up to 125 Aldi stores throughout Ireland as part of the Grow with Aldi initiative. The company is also a part of the Food Academy Programme with Supervalu.
“We were lucky enough to get on the grow with Aldi programme on Bord Bia. We have been researching and trialling and generally getting the product ready for market in the last couple of weeks.”
“In Dublin, we are in many speciality retailers such as Donnybrook Fair, Nolans, Mortons, and the fresh supermarket trade and local Supervalu stores in the Midlands. In addition, we launched in the King Oak in Tullamore.”
Liam has not invested in any machines or infrastructure for his new business venture. “We have kept a very lean management system at the moment. We have outsourced manufacturing for the moment.”
“There is a huge gap in terms of processing capabilities in Ireland for oat drinks. Longer-term, if we can get the volumes up, we need to look at a dedicated plant-based processing site within Ireland.”
He has been researching an idea to retail his product in the coffee and milk markets.
“Click and collect has grown, and online sales have grown. So, we think in terms of our products, the local milkman, who is back on trend again delivering direct to houses alongside dairy milk, could offer an Irish oat drink.”
“Our plan is to very much to expand. The coffee market section is huge in terms of food-service. One of the big growth services is adding oat drink to your cappuccinos and different coffees. So, there is a huge market in terms of food-service.”
“The food market has only opened up in the last week or two. So, that is a big growth for us. But then also export opportunities is a big focus for us into speciality retailers in the UK and Europe.”
“There is none here at the moment. Suppose Ireland is going to become a brand leader in oat drinks or plant-based products.”
“In that case, we will have to have a dedicated processing site. That is further down the line; we need to get our volumes and throughput up.”
According to Liam, he is in a marketplace “controlled by very big global players”.
“We are a small team, a small company, and a small brand starting up, but we are in a very competitive marketplace.”
“That is always going to be a big issue for us. So far, we have got huge support from the public, local people, and retailers.”
“They have given us an opportunity to get some space on the shelf. It is up to us to prove and get some sales on their spaces and expand from there.”
Liam commented on the positive and negative effects Covid-19 has had on his business.
“Covid-19 has not helped, but the only thing with Covid-19 it gives you that focus. There are always other things to do and places to go, but there are fewer things to do and fewer places to go. So, it was very good to focus and stay focused on the project we were doing.”
“It is very difficult to meet people in the business I am in and still mean a lot. Initially, you are trying to meet people or get contacts, and it is all over Zoom calls or meetings. But, even in the last while, even walking into a store would make a huge difference to us.”
Liam offered his advice to young entrepreneurs seeking to embrace their entrepreneurial spirit.
“I think first up has to be your idea and then getting some validation or help from your Local Enterprise Office.”
“The other thing is something we nearly fell into the trap of, and as a farmer, this is this kind of thing, buy the machines, get the big machines, and see how it works.”
“There is huge capital investment in a lot of these businesses. Sometimes, just start small and validate the market and then look at your capital expenditure, if possible. Every Local Enterprise Office will give you a link to a food campus.”
“Teagasc Moorepark has a huge centre down there, and they have got very high-tech facilities where you can do a lot of research. So that is a huge facility people should avail of if required.”
A retail listing
Liam plans to secure a retail listing for Oat in the City and expand the product abroad.
“The big plan is to try to get a retail listing and work with some of the larger food-service providers now that it is open. Then, next year we will very much focus on exports and product development.”
“My outlook on Covid-19 is very positive. I am in my 40s, and I have just got vaccinated. So I would have a very positive outlook in the next year, and we are very happy with the launch so far.”
“However, we are eager to get up and going and are happy the way things are going,” the owner of Oat in the City concluded.
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