If you follow me on Facebook or Instagram you’ll have seen that there has been an awful lot of chat about oat milk lately. In a nutshell (or an oat kernel…?), Oatly recently sold 10% of their business to a controversial private equity company called Blackstone which has prompted an increasing amount of backlash and bewilderment from sustainability circles. Many conscious consumers are calling for a complete boycott of the popular oat milk brand with much of the chat revolving around alternatives to Oatly.
The partnership certainly seems an odd one. Oatly – who preach high ethics and claim to only do good in the world – have taken $200 million from a company that is directly involved in destroying the Amazon; was accused by the UN of “wreaking havoc with tenants’ right to security and contributing to the global housing crisis” …. AND, as if that wasn’t bad enough, Blackstone’s CEO is one of the biggest financial supporters of Donald Trump. Yuck.
They claim that with this money they can spread their ethical oat-fuelled message even further and prove that investment in sustainable businesses is worthwhile. Of course they have a point, all small businesses need investment in order to expand and we need these eco-minded brands to expand in order to make them mainstream options. But have they sold their soul for financial gain? Could they have taken less money from a greener source and still expanded the business?
Without knowing the financial ins and outs of Oatly it’s hard to say but Blackstone’s track record is so far away from the ethics that Oatly brand is built on that it does feel a bit like they’re accepting blood money. Is it worth lining the dirty pockets of Blackstone in order to “make it easy for people to eat better and live healthier lives without recklessly taxing the planet’s resources in the process”? Or have they just completely contradicted that mission statement by accepting Blackstone’s proposal?
It’s a difficult balance to strike, isn’t it? If, by getting one of the biggest investment firms in the world on board, Oatly proves that the movement of global capital into sustainable companies is a desirable option then that has to be a good thing. But will Blackstone’s profits from this deal then be funneled into transforming rainforest into farmland or, even worse, be supporting Trump and his repulsiveness?
Personally I’m not sure that a boycott is the right way to go. Oatly is still Oatly. Blackstone’s investment doesn’t give them any control over the business so Oatly’s mission and their company ethics remain the same. But as consumers we need to weigh up the good vs the bad and see which way the scales tip for us. If you’re still on the fence then check out these alternatives to Oatly and see if any of them feel like a better fit…
Alternatives to Oatly
- Alpro is owned by Danone who use mostly (but not solely) RSPO certified palm oil
- Alpro also owns alternative milk brand Provamel
- 98% of Danone’s recent US political donations were to the Democrats
- In 2015 Danone were accused of cruel animal experimentation by Cruelty Free International
- Danone is a dairy based brand so Alpro and Provamel are not a vegan-friendly option
- Danone is, however, certified B Corp.
- Plenish are predominantly a juice company promoting the 5:2 method of intermittent fasting where you don’t eat for two days, just drink their juice.
- Their products are organic and sustainably sourced.
- Innocent is owned by Coca Cola who are one of the biggest users of palm oil globally
- Coke are a member of the Roundtable of Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) but provide no evidence of actually using sustainable supplies.
- Their ethics have been in question many times including being accused of falsifying pollution data in China and causing water shortages near their factories by locals in El Salvador.
- Overall, Innocent, like Oatly, are an inherently good company but with an ethically questionable owner.
- Califia are a large company based in California.
- They have many investors whose ethics I am unsure of – more research required.
- Their traceability and transparency is particularly good with a lot of information listed on their website.
- They use renewable energy and recycle their process-water by using it for agriculture.
- They trade directly with farmers many of which are within 20 miles of the bottling plant.
- Califia use recyclable packaging and are working towards using recycled materials as a greener alternative
- Rude Health are a small family run company that have recently sold a small stake to Pepsico Ventures.
- Pepsico has a dubious track record including reports of using tax havens and unethical palm oil suppliers that use forced labour.
- Again, it is worth noting that Rude Health themselves have high sustainability standards and Pepsico’s small percentage does not give them any say in how the company is run.
- Rude Health’s products are all organic.
- Pure Oaty is made on site at family run Glebe Farm in Cambridgeshire.
- They are the only arable farm in the UK growing and processing gluten free oats into products.
- Glebe Farm uses renewable energy including solar energy as well as biomass generators to keep energy consumption to a minimum.
- Around 20% of the land is turned over to bird cover and wildflowers to encourage diverse wildlife.
So which is best?
No brand is going to tick every box but once you figure out which values are most important to you it becomes a little easier to narrow down the choices. For me, a locally sourced product is going to win every time thanks to the reduced carbon footprint so I’m keen to give Pure Oaty a try. I can’t tell you which brand your taste buds will prefer but hopefully my little bit of research will give you a head start if you’re looking for alternatives to Oatly.
Have you tried any of these? What are your thoughts on the Oatly scandal? Will you be boycotting?
(Edited to add you can watch a great taste test and comparison of oat milks on Venetia LaManna’s IGTV here!)