Private equity has a place at the table, and so do Oprah and Jay-Z. Food giants like Nestlé are scrambling to get a foot in the door. There are implications for the climate. There are even geopolitical rumblings.
The unlikely focus of this excitement is Oatly, producer of a milk substitute made from oats that can be poured on cereal or foamed for a cappuccino. Oatly, a Swedish company, will sell shares to the public for the first time this week in an offering that could value it at $10 billion and exemplify the changes in consumer preferences that are reshaping the food business.
It’s no longer enough for food to taste good and be healthy. More people want to make sure that their ketchup, cookies or mac and cheese are not helping to melt the polar ice caps. Food production is a leading contributor to climate change, especially when animals are involved. (Cows belch methane, a potent greenhouse gas.) Milk substitutes made from soybeans, cashews, almonds, hazelnuts, hemp, rice and oats have proliferated in response to soaring demand.
“We have a bold vision for a food system that’s better for people and the planet,” Oatly declared in its prospectus for the offering. The company’s shares are expected to start trading in New York on May 20.
Stephen A. Schwarzman, Blackstone’s chief executive, was a steadfast supporter of former President Donald J. Trump, who has maintained that climate change is a hoax.
Blackstone’s backing also helped lend Oatly credibility on Wall Street. And there was no sign that Blackstone’s involvement slowed Oatly sales, which doubled last year.
Oatly’s image benefited from a roster of celebrity investors, including Oprah Winfrey, Natalie Portman, Jay-Z’s Roc Nation company, and Howard Schultz, the former chief executive of Starbucks. All have some connection to the plant-based or healthy living movement.
Oatly declined to comment, citing regulations that restrict public statements ahead of an initial public offering.
Oat milk is part of a larger trend toward food that mimics animal products. So-called food tech companies like Beyond Meat have raised a little more than $18 billion in venture funding, according to PitchBook, which tracks the industry. Plant-based dairy, which in the United States includes brands like Ripple (made from peas) and Moalla (bananas), raised $640 million last year, more than double the amount raised a year earlier.
In the United States, milk substitutes like oat milk and rice milk make up a $2.5 billion industry that is expected to grow to $3.6 billion by 2025, according to Euromonitor. Globally, the $9.5 billion industry is expected to grow to $11 billion.
Once a niche market, alternate milk has become as American as baseball. A frozen version of Oatly that mimics soft-serve ice cream is being sold this season at Yankee Stadium, Wrigley Field in Chicago and Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas, where the Rangers play.