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Oato: the oat milk brand from Lancashire

Tour of Oato with the founder, Carl Hopwood. PHOTO:Kirsty Thompson
Tour of Oato with the founder, Carl Hopwood. PHOTO:Kirsty Thompson

When Oato’s founder, Carl Hopwood, saw Tetrapak cartons of oat milk piling up in his former office, he knew he had to act.

‘I worked for a software company in sales, travelling across Europe,’ says Carl. ‘I noticed as more colleagues switched from cows’ milk to oat milk there was this great pile of cartons stacking up – ones that are not widely recycled which meant many of them would be heading for landfill or incineration. None of this would be good for the environment.

‘My job was interesting, but I’d been doing it for ten years and I really wanted to start my own business. I have a background in chemistry – I studied it at university – and I thought there was a way I could take that expertise and do something good with it by making oat milk but in glass bottles.’

Great British Life: Oato founder Carl Hopwood. PHOTO: Kirsty ThompsonOato founder Carl Hopwood. PHOTO: Kirsty Thompson

Carl started by posting on a local Kendal and Lancaster Facebook page, offering a free bottle to those wanting to give it a try. Nothing could have prepared him for the response.

‘We got 1500 requests,’ says Carl. ‘It was pretty mind blowing – it all built from there.

‘We’d started to sell it before we made it. Some might think that is crazy, but we needed to know the demand was there. We soon found out it was. People were really keen on it. We had to act fast.’

Knowing they could not deliver to their ever-growing customer list, they found others with established milk rounds willing to help and worked with farmers who had bottling facilities: ‘We couldn’t have done it without that type of help,’ says Carl, who lives in Kendal. ‘It really helped to get our business off the ground.’

What started as an idea to help make a positive impact on the environment, is now a successful company providing milk rounds across the country.

Great British Life: The production line at Oato PHOTO: Kirsty ThompsonThe production line at Oato PHOTO: Kirsty Thompson

What started with producing around 450 litres a week – no small task – has now transformed into a successful business producing upwards of 100, 000 litres of oat milk a week for the likes of fellow Lancashire company Modern Milkman, Milk and More, McQueen Dairies, Creamline in Manchester and Mortons and Harrisons in Maghull.

Their fresh oat milk is made in Carnforth using British oats from northern company, Morning Foods. It is then bottled in Preston and delivered in reusable glass bottles to thousands of doorsteps across the UK. Oato are now the largest producer of fresh oat milk in the country. They produce oat milk, chocolate oat milk and a kefir yogurt and a new soya milk, is due to launch this month under an offshoot of Oato, the Good Company.

As well as making products people love, that strong environmental message that first prompted Carl to launch Oato is still at the heart of the business. Each bottle is reused by 25 different households, their milk is distributed through already existing milk rounds, meaning no more vans are on the road and the Preston bottling facility has 600 solar panels that not only powers the huge building but also feeds electricity back into the local grid.

Great British Life: The production line at Oato PHOTO: Kirsty ThompsonThe production line at Oato PHOTO: Kirsty Thompson

‘Sustainability and taking better care of our planet is at the heart of what we do,’ he says. ‘It’s nice to be able to provide a choice for people that is more environmentally sustainable. I think if we all make these small choices then we can make a big impact.’

There are bigger plans in the pipeline too, with Carl hoping to move production of Oato products from Carnforth onto the one Preston site. They want to start working with larger retailers and there are also early plans for more products under new brand Good Company.

‘The kefir and the soya is a growing part of the business and I’m looking forward to seeing where it goes,’ says Carl. ‘I feel there is room on the market for other products. We want to expand where Oato is available, too, making it more accessible for more people. I would like for Oato to be that fresh option that’s competitive to cows’ milk. At the moment, we make a premium product that some people have, we want to make it that product lots of people get on their milk round. Once people try it, we have a great response. I’m proud of what’s been achieved and we want to keep growing.’



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