Non-dairy surge leads to oat milk shortage in UK

21 November 2018, 15:00 | Updated: 21 November 2018, 18:49

An oat milk shortage has left coffee drinkers and shops in the UK bereft of their favourite dairy substitute.

Oatly - a Swedish brand of the drink - has become a choice brand for fans of flat whites, lattes and smoothies who, amid a growing trend of plant-based eating, prefer dairy alternatives.

But when customers ordered their favourite lactose-free drink this week, many were told there was simply none left.

The manufacturer has told coffee shops its stock of the product is limited, and those in the trade have told Sky News a UK-wide shortage has made it impossible to source.

"We've contacted all our suppliers and none of them have any stock," James Penn, the owner of Hackney Coffee Company in east London, told Sky News.

"It's gone completely out of stock everywhere and no-one knows when it's coming back."

Mr Penn added that other, smaller suppliers such as London-based Minor Figures were stepping in to fill the gap, but he expected them to quickly run out too.

Confirming it was experiencing "unprecedented demand" that far outstripped supply, Oatly told Sky News it had seen a 100% growth since 2017, with turnover projected to be £19m in 2018.

"We've recently produced and sold more Oat drink than ever before. Unfortunately, there isn't enough Barista edition in supply to meet this extraordinary demand," Ishen Paran, the brand's general manager, said.

"However, we are increasing production to keep up with the incredible response, so that we can make sure Baristas across the UK can continue supplying customers with delicious cow's milk-free drinks."

They stressed that other lines of chilled drinks and not-milks, not targeted at coffee shops, were still available.

The boost in sales is likely not to be a surprise to the company.

In recent months Oatly ran a £700,000 advertising campaign, with huge billboards in London dubbing the product "like milk but made for humans".

And it is tapping into a major shift in eating habits, with many Britons compelled by dietary concerns, ethical worries or lifestyle choices to ditch dairy and meat for plant-based alternatives.

The Vegan Society estimates there are around 542,000 vegans in the UK - three and half times as many as there were in 2006 - nearly half of whom are aged 15-34.

Mr Penn said that in his coffee shop - which is located in a gentrifying area of east London that is home to a small explosion of vegan cafes - 20% of the drinks sold now contain oat milk.

Mr Penn said Oatly was now the "market preference", with a mainstream popularity far surpassing other dairy free milks such as soy or almond, despite it being a relatively new addition to the market.

"There's clearly a plant-based, environmentally conscious movement happening, and we see that in our customers, whether they're asking for non-dairy milk or bringing their own reusable cups," he said.

"What oat milk has done is provide an actual comparable alternative to dairy milk - something that's on a par in quality and taste. We didn't have that before."