J𝐨𝐮𝐫𝐧𝐞𝐲 𝐭𝐨 𝐌𝐢𝐥𝐤𝐢𝐧𝐎𝐚𝐭𝐬 𝐰𝐢𝐭𝐡 𝐌𝐬. 𝐀𝐬𝐡𝐧𝐚 𝐆𝐨𝐞𝐥

Foodyaari is first ever cloud based platform for connecting food professionals. Foodyaari Team had a live virtual interview with Ms. Ashna Goel, who is the founder & Managing director of MilkinOats. MilkinOats is a lifestyle brand where everything revolves around oats and is the India’s firstever Oat milk brand. Today plant-based alternatives are in rise. It is the right time to venture such new plant-based innovations.  In this Q/A interview session, our guest Ms. Ashna Goel answered all the questions regarding,

  • • Factors to study before planning a start-up
  • • Innovations in oat milk 
  • • Nutritional superiority of oats
  • • Struggles of MilkinOats

EXCERPTS OF THE INTERVIEW

1.What inspired you to start MilkinOats?

                In terms of inspiration, I always wanted to start my own business work for something in which I totally believe, and I started Milkinoats. Then my second inspiration I would say Oatly. Oatly is the global brand in the world which is doing extremely well and how they are targeting the consumers, how they are providing the best of the plant based milk to all their consumers is basically which inspired me to provide such product to the Indian consumer as well because in India people really don’t understand the benefit of oats ,people know how to consume oats in their oatmeal but they are really don’t know there are the  other ways. Whereas now people are switching to the plant-based milk available out for them, they really need to understand plant based milk and then make an informed decision about their lifestyle so milk in oats is more of a lifestyle brand which needs to educate the people about a good and the healthy lifestyle and then provide such products to the consumers.

2.How long did you plan the idea of the venture before executing everything and what were the main factors that you studied during the planning stage of this business?

                   A three years back I was in Italy for doing my MBA and that was the time I was also in talks with few of my friends in India and a lot of plant based milk were already available in Italy because as you say that U.S and Europe is as way three years ahead of India and already there a  vegan market is set up where people already know what are vegan milk and the market is actually filled with plant based milk so me and my friends had come across this plant based milk in the Italy market and those plant based milk was various like hemp milk ,rice milk and oat milk was one of them. So since that time we were in kind of researching on which is good plant  based milk, three years back in India almond milk has just came into the market the other plant based milk which we had was soy milk which was since years old and coconut milk which was again since years in India but there was no other alternative in India right now and even so basically when me and my friends came across this plant based milk at that time we started researching about it like why oat milk is gaining so much attraction in the US and Europe market because their market is using  already and  too much filled with plant based milk but suddenly oat milk comes into the market and it is taking away the market share of all the other plant based milk that is such a unique characteristic about oat milk . So we started researching about it and we found the certain point that the oat milk actually resembles the characteristics of the cow milk so people when they shift their diet from a dairy milk to a plant based milk.  Usually people need something in taste which has the similar usage as well ,so oat milk was a perfect representative of a cow’s milk so that is why oat milk was gaining a lot of popularity in  US and  Europe market that’s how what we found during research process  3 years down the line now we have started it because meantime, I also started  doing my job and wanted to gain some experience in terms of the food and beverage industry how exactly an FMCG( Fast Moving Consumer Goods)  industry works in India . So I started working  on it and these three  years we were actually researching more about the product more  kind of products which can come into a oat milk segment so if even today I am starting oat milk then what is the scalability of the business is a very important thing to think of even if you guys start any business thinking of a scalability like oat milk is the post product then what are the other products which can come out of oat milk because your entire life for the next five to ten years you can’t keep selling just old oat milk you have to think about the scalability , the feasibility and so many other aspects of a business before finally think of executing it and so in the meantime before even execution we started making oat milk from our home based kitchens also we started supplying it to the people around as we got a very good feedback. We created all the feedback, we revised the product in outer home based kitchen and we understood from the people that is  something which will be available in the market and they will be willing  to bye it and we got a very positive feedback and then we finally thought this is the time when we can start to commercialize the product and start farming a brand out of it and the main factors which we studied was as I mentioned the scalability of the business, how is the vegan industry in India doing, what is the scope of a vegan industry in India . Currently vegan industry in India is at a nice stage it is just starting up there are not many brands or products available but what is the scope of this vegan industry ten years down the line in India will grow at what rate it will grow so all these parameters we had research before starting the business and during the planning stage of our business. I also want to add a specific point that why we thought oat milk in India when there were three plant based milk were already there so oat milk has a certain level of fats which is similar to cow milk so it makes a perfect milk when you want to boil the milk like boil cow’s milk ,same way like boil tea milk by making coffee also so it can be used in the same way how you use cow milk whereas soy milk and almond  milk cannot be boiled it has to be taken directly from the carton or you just mix some flavors into it or you mix your Bournvita or cocoa powder into it and consume it whereas oat milk can be used as exactly the same way you use cow milk that was the prime reason why we ventured out into this product.

3. What was the biggest challenge in setting up this company and how did you overcome it?

                     I think the biggest challenge in setting this company was to find a person who can help us to make a good quality commercialized oat milk so while we were already making oat milk in our home based kitchen but when you go ahead and make a commercialized product in a factory of course your food experience is important so you must be knowing all of this and that. A good food technologist is really required to formulate the product in such a way that it is self sustainable it has a particular shelf life and it stands at the ambient temp that was a very important point for us that we wanted the milk to stand at an ambient in temperature and it shouldn’t need a cold storage because when you make a product for a cold storage, scalability reduces like it has to be stored in cold storage only then the operation increases so all of these are various challenges which come into picture when you make a product for cold storage . So we wanted a product to be ambient temperature, only then we went ahead to find a food technologist who is experienced enough to make an oat milk for us but unfortunately there is no one who is well aware about oat milk in India. The people really don’t know how to make oat milk like they weren’t also doing their trials and research on the product but nobody was experienced to make a good quality oat milk so that was the biggest challenge for us and I think we lost around 7 to 8 months in finding a good food technologist who would help us to make a good quality product and till now  I think the oat milk  which we have particularly formulated is done by the house team only with me and my partner did it and we took a help from few of the food technologists around us in certain aspects of a product but this was the biggest challenge and the second biggest challenge was to manufacture the oat milk again oat milk is a part which is not manufactured in India so there was no manufacturer available in India who has all the sets of machineries which is required for manufacturing the oat milk because oat milk is in itself a process when you make oat milk from scratch so you require certain machineries for it which nobody actually had so people who manufactured almond milk and soy milk also didn’t have all those certain machineries because oat milk is a slightly different process to make from almond milk and soy milk so this was the another biggest challenge which we actually faced and  then we  had to understand the process of the oat milk figure out the machineries and then find the manufacturers for it and then finally after I think 3 or 4 months of our research we found a manufacturer  who was first willing to manufacture oat milk and then he had a certain set of machineries also which we required.

4.Are there plans of diversifying these products? Is yes, what can we expect?

              We have plants to diversify into the products. This oat milk is the primary essence of the brand and it  is the primary product of the brand where we want to go into all the products which you currently see out in the market which is made of milk you will find all these products made of oat milk in our brand that is what we look forward to like all the dairy products we will get a dairy alternative which is made of oat milk, the next variation which we are working on the flavored oat milk, we are trying to work on the ice-creams , yogurt and few other products as well.

5.Did you get any funding, or you started on your own?

             We are completely bootstrapped started so me and my partner has only invested our money in it and it’s completely run by us as of now but we are looking out of funding as soon as possible.

6.If one wants to start his or her entrepreneurial journey what suggestions you will give?

              My first suggestion is patience. Patience is extremely important when you start your own journey, you need to be extremely patient you will have days and days where you see that it’s not going anywhere you are just getting rejections or challenges and you are not rising at all but you need to have that patience unless you really cannot succeed in your business. Patience is the key to launching your business because it takes time to make a product it really takes times to get a product out in the market and launch it , make it reach to the consumer so all this while you really need to be very patient and once all of this happens so you will see that almost a year or two year has already passed and then you will start getting results out of it and trust me this entire patience which you have shown for 2 years will be really worth it so just be very patient and just be very confident in your idea and believe that is the perfect idea that you’re working on leave aside whatever anyone is saying to you, if you believe in some idea just go for it.

7.where do you see the company in the next 5 years?

              5 years from now we see the company having the variety of the products and at least with those variety of the products we reach to every Indian kitchen this is the prime objective so when we talk about diversion of the product range is the main reason why we diversify into different parts is also that oat milk is a very nice product so may be you as consumer might not want to consume oat milk but chocolates, today I have chocolates also you want to try chocolates and then you like chocolates and you become a regular consumer and then similarly some people don’t have oat milk also they won’t have chocolates also but they have cookies, it have oat cookies ,then they start consume oat cookies so this way we shall reach to every Indian kitchen.  We want to make a people aware about a healthy lifestyle so with all our different healthy products at least every consumer is consuming some healthy products in their everyday life, so this is what we want.

8.would you claim that oat milk is gluten free, are they made from gluten free oats?

               I don’t claim that out oat milk is made from gluten free oats because gluten free is a very specific test which needs to be done on the product and right now the oats that we are sourcing from the local brands only in India, we are not sourcing oats from outside India. So those local brands currently have this gluten free test already done on the oats, that is a more intense and a more R & D process which we need to go into but  soon in few years we do want to claim gluten free also but we need to do a series of tests for the same.

9.Has covid affected your business?

           Covid has affected our business.  We just launched our products in March only it’s been just two months and 1.5 months after we launched our products this pandemic second wave came in and everything was under lockdown and so many restrictions, initially didn’t hit us too much but around the end of April it started really hitting us like till now also in India oat milk is more of a luxury product than a necessity product for everyone so where people are everyday consuming or purchasing their necessity products like dairy milk and all of those products which people are not coming to purchase on a daily basis so of course our ordering has reduced a bit but I think we will be able to soon convert this luxury product into a necessity product as well that is what we actually look forward to.

10. Who has been your greatest inspiration in your entrepreneurial journey so far?

                 I can say a brand’s name here rather than saying someone’s name actually so as I mentioned in my first question also Oatly has been my greatest inspiration during my journey of making and Oatly actually inspired me to start milk in oats and to start telling people what is wrong with their diet and what needs to be changed and how they need to adapt to a healthy lifestyle so it really inspired me and it really it made me believe in the product also .

11. Did you find any difficulty in introducing your product to the market, if yes what are they and how did you tackle them?

                  I didn’t find it difficult to introduce the product to the market because I really found that people are quite much aware about oat milk when I launched my products ,people knew about oat milk brand to come in India so that they can also purchase , so it was not a difficult to keep the products out in the market  and make people educate about it and the only thing which was difficult right now is to make people to shift toward oat milk because currently as you see our oat milk product are a little expensive it is not a very cheap product as compared to the other plant basements. I believe in the market so , this is a challenge which we are facing right now but we also feel as our quantities will increase more people will get to knew about the product ,  demand will be increase then we will be able to reduce the price as well and that’s how we are facing to tackle the issue when people are don’t want to shift to an oat milk diet because it’s little expensive.

12. How would you tackle regulatory requirements, as FSSAI has declared as milk is a dairy product where no plant based can be called as milk you need to call it as beverage?

                    I think this is a regulatory norm which has not come out officially, but it is still in talks right now and a draft has been formed but I am hundred percent sure in one or two months down the line it will come out. So how we are tackling it ,I would say that if you would seen my products and my bottles we write baristas choice oat milk , currently how we are tackling it is that we are putting bottle icon instead of I because specifically say that you call your plant based milk as a plant based beverage or beverage but we don’t want to call it as a beverage because in India there is a very different perception of milk and beverage . Milk is a necessity, it is a product which everybody needs to consume every day be it any milk, but beverage is more of a luxury, it is not a necessity, beverage is something you just have when you’re just sitting idle, you just have something, you can have it one day, you cannot have it other day and it’s not a requirement. So we don’t want to call our milk as a beverage rather we’ll currently as I mentioned to you in terms of visual perspective ,we are putting a bottle icon and we are  still calling it as milk basically but in terms of it written it’s not a milk ,MILK it will be M bottle L K and I think just removing the milk word completely change the perception of the market and it will be very difficult to then cater to the consumer.

13. What is your current market audience and location you are targeting and what on scale you are producing now?

                 In terms of the location, we are delivering our products in India. We are selling through our own website in Amazon, flipkart and other ecommerce channels so this is the online presence, I was telling about but in terms of offline presence, we are placed across post in Delhi, Mumbai and few stores in Kolkata also but in offline we have very limited presence right now . In terms of current market audience , what I understood from my all sales is that the people who are vegan or who are lactose intolerance are the major consumers of my product around 20 to 25%  or the consumers who wants to shift to a vegan lifestyle and wants to try the products and how they tastes if  they  are able to make shift to the vegan products or not so this is kind of a split between both the segments.

14. When can we see milk in oats products in our supermarket shelves? Is there any idea of getting into overseas markets?

                I think 3 months down the line you will be able to see milk in oats in the shelves of the supermarket. We are recently did a tie up a final trial with a bug supermarket I just don’t want to name it right now, but we have done a big tie up with the supermarket and three months down the line will be available on it shelves across the metropolitan cities right now.

15. How to market a plant-based company, because most of the people are bit reluctant to try?

                    The biggest marketing strategy which I feel to market a plant based company is to tell out the benefits of a plant based diet , what a plant based diet offers on comparison to your regular diet and once so that these days people are too much into a healthy diet whatever they see what will give you more benefits to your health they would want to convert into that diet , so when you tell people that plant based diet is more better for your health it makes you active , it makes you live longer , it is sustainable for the earth and it is sustainable for the nature so when people get to know these benefits then they want to at least try the products and once they try the products and they like it then they want to stick to it , so that is what a strategy which specifically I’m using which I have seen many brands also using .

16. What are the different ways in which oats milk can be consumed among consumers? Or can it substitute the animal milk?

                  Yes, absolutely you can use oat milk in every way you use dairy milk in beverages, teas, coffees, shakes, smoothies, you use cow milk in that and you use cow milk in Indian sweet dishes, you make use of cow milk in cake baking, pancakes and all of these ways you can bake, you can make Indian sweet dishes , you can make Indian gravies out if it . So, people can use oat milk the same way they use the cow milk. The people who are looking to consume any dessert or snacks which they consume any dessert or snacks which they could not consume earlier, they can use this milk in their home desserts also.

17. Is oat milk comparable to animal milk in terms of nutrition or do we have to fortify it? So, it naturally comparable or it needs a fortification?

                   In terms of energy and calories it is same as that of the dairy milk, in terms of fat content also it is the same, in terms of carbohydrates again it’s the same but in terms of calcium it is not exactly the same, it is little less than the cow milk it needs a fortification of calcium content.

18. Is it suitable for children below the age of 2 to 3 years because for then it is a requirement they should consume the animal milk, or it can be substitute to breast milk?

                   We personally don’t suggest kids who are below 2 to 3 years to consume oat milk and the prime reason is that oat milk is very rich in dietary fibers and a young kid a baby cannot digest much fiber because our oat milk is specifically 100 % made out of oats , we are not a brand who uses oat powders and mixed it in water and  give it out , we make it from 100 % percent from oats so it very high in fibers so that kid might not be able to digest so much of fibers. So, they might go through lose motion and vomiting as well so we don’t suggest it but we haven’t done any trials or we haven’t come across any such researches or articles which mentions that it is safe for kids or it is not safe for kids. It is better that if any mother would want to try it they better dilute the milk a little and they try giving it two or three spoons to the baby and then see how they responds of course it’s not bad for their health at all , the way only it’s bad that they are not able to digest it because of too much of fibers so it more that if you want to give it your kid I’d he’s lactose intolerant baby then do some trial too him by diluting it and then see how he reacts. 

19. Is oat milk suitable for people with food allergies? What about vegans?

                   Oat milk is not allergic to people but since some oat milks are not gluten free, so people are gluten allergic that is hoe people can be allergic to oat milk but oats as an ingredient or as a crop people are not allergic to oats.

20. How do you manage constant supply of raw materials?

                 We have our vendors in place with from where we get our raw materials and as soon as we feel that our raw materials are getting over, we bell in advance place the orders with the vendors, and we get our raw materials.

21. How has the acceptance towards plant-based milk increased in India in the recent years? What are your thoughts on this?

                     In terms of response people really liked our oat milk and we got a positive response the people who have already tasted so many plant-based milk. I believe in the market they have tasted milk available in US and Europe also during their travel, so they really felt that our milk was a very great product, and it was one of the best milks in plant-based milk they have ever had in their life. so this was the kind of feedback we were getting in terms of our milk and in terms of the acceptance people who are vegan has already started accepting the products and I also know many vegan people who take cartons and cartons from is for their daily use but as I mentioned you there are so many other people also who are still thinking if they want to shift to a new diet so it’s just like some people are already shifted some people are thinking to shift but in terms of the of the product people really liked our products and I think if is getting accepted in the market.

22.Do we need a strong educational background to start entrepreneurship?

                 I personally don’t think that you need a very strong educational background to start your start up there are a few qualities. I would say that you need to start a startup and I think anybody can work on those qualities like leadership skills, team working, patients , being consistent in your approach so those are few qualities which you need to work on yourself that doesn’t mean you need to have a very strong educational background anyone out there can go and start a startup just be passionate about it, be patient about it and believe in your idea.

23. What about the overseas markets?

                  Yes, we are looking to move into the overseas market but at the right time so since currently we are already bootstrapped company, and we are just using our friends so we want to be self sustainable in India first and then move to the overseas market but we see a huge potential in the overseas market because already people are consuming these products in their daily life.

24.Is oat milk powder available as of now and are you planning for the same? 

                 Currently oat milk powder is not available for us right now but yes that is a product we first thought of and we are really planning on it because people are very much used to of using milk powders during their travel or any other way so yes we are looking to diverge into that product line as well.

25. Did you have a mentor to guide you through the process or anybody you know to help you throughout?

               I wouldn’t say I had a very experienced mentor with me and that is why I think we made a lot of mistakes we faced so many challenges but I had a few friends around me whom I used to talk to ,I used to discuss the problems with them and they used to give solutions to it so I would get a second person’s thought also on those problems .so I just had my friends to discuss my problems and to learn from them but no experienced mentor as such with me.

26. After milk is extracted from oats, what do you do the extracted oats?

               Yes, this is the very interesting question. We wanted to make this oat milk a sustainable product as we claim also, and we want to claim the brand to be very sustainable and we wanted to make oat milk like a zero-waste product. So once the milk is extracted from oats, of course a lot of oats and fibers left behind so, what we are working on a new product is all those fibers which are left behind will be used to make oat chips. Oat chips are more of like if you see ragi chips or beetroot chips already available in the market so those oats will be used to make a oat chips which is a very healthy snack and another product line which we are working on right now. because it has a lot of nut nutritional values it is full of fibers, and it is full of good nutrients from the old so why to waste it.

27.what is the recovery percentage of oats. What quantum of milk is obtained from say 1kg?

                    I think very approximately on that, so with 1kg of oats we get somewhere around 10 liters to 15 liters of milk.

28.Are you processing your product to make it creamier and more desirable as compared just soaking oats in water and then milking it?

                   Yes, we are soaking the oats in water then making out of it in terms of processing I don’t know exactly what you mean by the processing, but we are add certain fats to it and we do a homogenization process which mixes those fats very well into the product which makes the texture very creamy mouth feel of when you drink.

29.You’re from computer science background and getting into a food industry this must have been a major change for you so how would you tell about that experience?

                  Yes , I am computer science junior and while I was doing my engineering I was very intrigued by starts ups during that time when I think I was around the 2nd year of my college that start up India stand  up India act also to became and this entire startup industry really moved me and since then I always wanted to have my own startup and I was actually a foodie, I was a fan of different kinds of foods and I just wanted to try various different foods and just try everything out there in the market so I knew that I had to do something my own business in the food segment because this is something which interest me this is something which I am passionate about and this is something which I like working for, so for me specifically I can work on the things which really make me happy with which I connect so I knew that I had to start my business in  the food segment this I got clear during my computer science engineering days and of course I was from a computer science background and I had no knowledge of how to start a food business and that’s how I thought that firstly I should go ahead to pursue my master’s in business which will give me a little idea about the business industry how a business works ,how basically that area of the industry will give me a good idea . So that’s how I went ahead to do my MBA and during my MBA since I wanted to start a food business, I interned with a lot of food companies. I entered with the Belgian waffles co as a full-time employee with them I worked for 2 years and I learnt how actually the food industry works, how our business works or what are the requirements and all those other things. Basically, I learnt all how to run a food business during my internships and during my job at the Belgian waffles co and which made me finally feel that I’m capable enough to start my own business now in the food segment.

30. Would you share a few inspiring words with our audience?

                    I think I haven’t reached that stage where I can inspire people but the only thing which I have, and I would want to say to people is believe in your idea and believe in yourself. I’m not talking about a startup business or a startup industry I’m just talking to you that whatever you like to do as a career be very confident about it and whatever makes you happy, whatever you are passionate about just stick to that area of your career and you will really succeed in it. This is only what I can say right now just from my personal experience, and I think that experience is very little, but I would just give this suggestion to everyone.

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