Soy, almond, hemp seed, pea and even potato.
There are many milk alternatives and the market among vegans and the lactose intolerant is thriving. However, one of the most popular varieties is oat. In response to this trend, Edinburgh-based entrepreneur, Karen Robinson, 44, recently decided to launch her version of the dairy-free drink with her business, Three Robins.
Her product is currently available online, and in shops including Edinburgh’s Findlay’s Grocers and Delicatessen 181, Olive Alexanders in Aberdeen, and served in cafes such as Cactus Coffee, Fox & Co, Snax Cafe, Pentland Cafe Express and the new Porty Vault Taproom and Smokehouse.
Tell us about your business
When one of my three boys became lactose intolerant we started drinking oat milk, but struggled to find a brand that fit our family’s needs. I realised there was a gap in the market for a family-focused plant milk brand that could deliver taste and nutrition. I was determined to develop a product that would taste as good in cereal as it did in coffee, to help families switch to dairy alternatives – and so Three Robins was born. Our last name is Robinson, and the name Three Robins is a nod to our three little boys. It also reflects the roots in nature and the outdoors that is an important part of our lives and the brand.
What’s your professional background?
After studying international relations at the University of S t Andrews I went on to do a PhD and then spent 20 years working in international development, specifically on women’s rights. Starting an oat milk company has been a big challenge, but an exciting one. On a day-to-day level I am a sole founder, but I’m fortunate to have worked with a number of food and drink experts who have supported me since the beginning, in particular Edinburgh-based agency LUX who have worked with us on our brand strategy and design.
What’s different about the product?
As we recognised that parents in particular value a product that has a good nutritional profile and is low in sugar, we fortify our oat milk more broadly than others on the market (it contains vitamins B2, B12, D, calcium, iodine, folic acid and added beta glucan) and it has no added sugar. Our product is also a true all-rounder and even works well in tea, which for many plant milk drinkers is the hardest swap to make.
Is the demand for oat milk still growing and why?
Demand has grown exponentially in the UK over the past couple of years and it is now the number one choice among plant milks. Oat milk is really versatile, with a creamy and neutral flavour that works in most food and drink, particularly coffee where much of the growth has come from. We are the first in the UK to specifically target the family segment. We believe that the real growth market for plant milks in the future is families, and children in particular.
What do you think of the other milk alternatives?
Clearly there is a certain degree of preference and subjective taste when it comes to choosing a plant milk, but oat is so versatile and offers other advantages as well that place it ahead of others. It’s one of the most sustainable options, with a lower water, carbon and land usage footprint than many other varieties such as soy or almond. Although pea and more recently potato milk also have a good sustainability profile, they do not have as good a flavour or texture, which often means adding sugar or other ingredients to make them more palatable. In my opinion, oat has the nutrition, the eco credentials and the taste, and is without a doubt the best all-rounder.
Any other eco-friendly credentials?
We chose to make Three Robins an ambient product to reduce the energy required for distribution and storage and cut food waste by having a long shelf-life of up to 12 months. Our SIG brand packaging is also fully recyclable where facilities exist, and it is made from cardboard that’s been certified by the Forest Stewardship Council and aluminium that’s certified by the Aluminium Stewardship Initiative. SIG has also recently introduced a fully plant-based carton without any aluminium, and we plan to switch to this type of packaging as soon as possible.
Do you hope to branch out into other products eventually?
Absolutely. We were busy with product innovation while waiting to launch our one litre oat milk cartons, and have some exciting new first-to-market products that we will be introducing later this year, specifically targeting kids and the on-the-go market.
Where would you like to see your product stocked?
Ultimately, we want it to be stocked in all the places where families go to buy their oat milk, from small shops through to large supermarkets and we offer home delivery throughout the UK via our website. Plant milk options in places like museums, play areas and leisure centres tend to be limited, particularly if you are looking for healthy and convenient choices for your kids. We will therefore build our presence across food service and hospitality so that people can find our products when they are on a family day out, travelling or just out and about and looking for a healthy dairy-free drink. In August last year the Scottish Government changed its policy to subsidise plant milk as part of their nursery milk scheme, and so we would love to see Three Robins being used in nurseries and schools.