As a small and oat milk company that was founded in 1985, Swedish brand Oatly managed to sky-rocket in sales over the last couple of years by marketing to a very specific vertical: the specialty coffee community. Pivotal to this success was a decision made in 2016 when Oatly decided to completely scrap its old box design and redesign it. Oatly had identified this market sector’s demand for high quality alternative milk as a key area for the brand’s growth. And since their product was already capable of filling this need, they simply needed to communicate this to the buyers of these cafes. Here’s how they did it.
First, English text was key. Older designs used Sweedish text, and since they were specifically designing to cater towards the American cafes across the ocean, using English made it easier for US consumers to understand what their message was.
Second, they used a modern and bold design that was still approachable. In a sea of brightly colored dairy box design, they went with a simple monochromatic or desaturated palette. For example, the flagship “Barista Edition” box uses only grey, black, and white. They also used bolder typefaces as their main graphic design and Oatly even changed the shape of its box from a flat top milk jug to a more cuboid form that is easier to ship.
Finally, even though the base oat milk was already good enough for coffee, they went the extra mile. They slightly adjusted the product to create a new oat milk specifically formulated for coffee. Baristas at the time were desperate for alternative milks that had the same consistency as full cream dairy milk, which is easily to steam, creates good latte foam, is sweet, and has body. Often times, almond and soy milk don’t steam properly because they lack density and are twice as sensitive to temperature as compared to dairy milk.
Oatly’s Barista Edition Milk, was designed to match the density properties of dairy milk, using enzymes to break down the oats and the result is a creamy and thick so that foam wouldn’t separate during the steaming process. Once word started getting out that baristas could texture the product to make acceptable latte foam and that it was ultimately being ordered by customers, sales started to boom.
Using design, Oatly managed to communicate that their product was a solid alternative for baristas. This ultimately won the battle when they showed the specialty coffee community that they listened to and cared about the barista’s needs. As a result, they managed to break into the scene quickly.
Today, consumers love Oatly so much that it has become their usual standard for milk. On top of being great for coffee, it’s actually gluten free and has a significantly lower carbon footprint. Oat milk has one third the carbon footprint and requires up to 80% less land for production versus dairy milk. In today’s world, perhaps this should be the standard, and not an alternative anymore.