While oat milk is still a relatively newer item across mainstream buy-side markets, this hasn’t stopped the high-demand product from blazing a fresh trail across retail and foodservice. When oat milk first began capturing consumers’ eyes a couple of years ago, it felt like the industry as a whole was on a precipice for plant-based change. Now, with Protein Oat officially available nationwide, I think we’re teetering on another precipice—and one in which Califia Farms® will be leading the industry over.
I sat down with Greg Steltenpohl, the company’s Founder and Chief Executive Officer, to find out more about how Califia Farms is pushing the boundaries of not just oat milk, but plant-based products as a whole and why the company’s team is touting its latest product launch as a breakthrough in the category.
“One of the last things non-plant-based industries have had to hang their hat on against plant-based products is the lack of protein. In order to achieve that drinkable texture in non-dairy milks, the process typically waters down the proteins, which is what we wanted to solve with Protein Oat,” Greg explained to me. “We have conducted a huge amount of research to solve this problem and we think we’ve found a delicious solution by combining three protein sources—oat, yellow pea, and sunflower—to achieve a 90-plus rating on the protein quality scale.”
With health on the rise with consumers, Greg noted that protein is especially important and, because of this, Califia Farms didn’t want to compromise its clean-label process or its quintessential creamy texture in any way.
“Califia Farms always makes something different and something better. And we don’t take shortcuts to accomplish this. We don’t use artificial flavors or ingredients, nor do we use high-intensity sweeteners, and we even stay away from a lot of sugar, which is what consumers often find on the backs of protein drinks. Through an innovative way of processing the oat, we’ve been able to bring out the sweet oat flavors and then complement that flavor with a protein blend made with yellow peas, sunflower, and oats and brown rice. Protein Oat is also packed with omega-3, 6, and 9, which is not as present in vegan/vegetarian diets. We also wanted to create a solution for parents when creating Protein Oat, so we made sure the final product tasted good for kids and passed the nutritional test with mom and dad for a healthy and delicious product the whole family can enjoy.”
Protein Oat is very versatile and can be used in all the same ways as dairy and other alternative milks, including in smoothies and baking and cooking recipes—perfect for the endless cooking needs consumers are uncovering in this COVID-19 world. Greg emphasized that it is a great way for non-category buyers to try oat milk and access a new protein source that’s delicious and healthy.
“Our Protein Oat capitalizes on the momentum around oat milk. The challenge for retailers is bringing variety to oat and non-oat buyers. We’re trying to help diversify the oat category and expand it with a non-cannibalizing SKU,” Greg revealed. “We think this is the first time we’ve introduced a strategic product that is able to compete nutritionally with traditional milks. This is a super healthy and progressive product that actually tastes great—in fact, I think, it is one of our best tasting products—and will benefit conventional, organic, and specialty stores’ sales.”
Because Califia Farms is clearly on the forefront of the plant-based category, I wanted to pick Greg’s brain about the future of oat milk and the sector as a whole. He shared that Califia Farms is expanding its credibility in the kitchen with the introduction of Plant Butter, a flexible plant-based butter that melts and cooks like dairy butter and is made with whole food ingredients like cashews and tigernuts and heart-healthy avocado and olive oils.
“It’s too early to tip our hand on where the oat category is headed. I think Califia Farms always excels at making plant-based fare taste better, and part of our secret is mouthfeel. We think the protein category has been saturated with products that don’t dissolve properly and have a grainy mouthfeel. What our technology accomplishes is a 100 percent soluble plant protein that’s really smooth, so we’d love to figure out how to find more applications for this,” Greg hinted.
While the industry waits at the edge of its seat for what Califia Farms will introduce to the plant-based sector next, Deli Market News will continue to bring you behind the curtain on our industry’s most recent product debuts.