Glebe Farm: ‘We have big plans to redefine the UK plant-based milk market’ – vegconomist
Glebe Farm says it has always prided itself on being the only UK company to produce oat milk from scratch. Today, the brand seeks to disrupt the UK plant-based milk market by encouraging the move away from imported products.
A recent survey by Glebe found that 34% of consumers don’t know where their oat milk comes from, even though 70% think it’s important to know where food and drink comes from.
“THE BIG VEGETABLE MILK CON: Yes, we said it… Big name oat milk = big food miles. When we CAN grow oats in the UK, why import from overseas? Support real British farming and legitimate sustainability Glebe Farm on LinkedIn
Respondents strongly supported labeling plant milks indicating their origin, and almost half said they would replace imported products with local ones if the labeling was clear. Consequently, Glebe’s marketing is heavily focused on its local credentials.
Having started out as a relatively small-scale producer, Glebe made headlines last year when he won a lawsuit against Oatly. The Swedish brand had claimed Glebe’s PureOaty brand was too similar to its own, but a judge decided no copyright infringement had occurred.
The court case significantly increased awareness of the brand, which has since been launched at major retailers such as Morrisons. We spoke to co-founder and managing director Philip Rayner to find out more.
What is the story behind Glebe Farm?
The heart of the British countryside is where we call home; our independent family farm, based in Cambridgeshire, is run by me and my sister Rebecca.
As a family we have been farming for over 50 years and today we are the only plant milk brand in the UK to produce 100% British oats, straight from the farm.
Since we’re involved in every step of growing, milling and manufacturing our oats, we know exactly what’s going on in everything we produce. We believe in natural goodness and true agriculture, so you won’t find any syrup bases in our beverages; unlike other brands, thanks to our secret “milking” method.
“We are the only plant milk brand in the UK to produce 100% British oats”
We have big plans to redefine the UK plant-based milk market away from the dominance of imported milk substitutes and food conglomerates. We need to educate consumers (who don’t realize their plant milk is imported from overseas) that buying UK oat milk not only supports UK farmers but is also much more sustainable and beneficial to the environment.
Gluten-free foods are a hot topic – what prompted you to grow gluten-free oats and do you think the demand is there?
Although we are now self-proclaimed oat milk connoisseurs, we surprisingly didn’t start out in the plant-based or gluten-free market. We first started supplying organic bread and cake mixes at farmers markets, and customers started asking Rebecca for wheat-free products. She turned to spelled products, which were gentler on the stomach – but the demand for gluten-free products proved to be the most popular, and then our gluten-free oats were born.
Having second generation farmland to use, our unique oats became the staple crop and Rebecca started writing a book about growing and milling gluten-free oats. Glebe Farm Foods was born out of this – listening to what consumers wanted and providing a local, expert-quality version.
“We take great pride in being able to supply the purest quality oats to the UK”
The demand for gluten-free products has steadily increased over the past 15 years since our humble beginnings and doesn’t seem to be slowing down. People are always looking for food alternatives and healthy options. We take great pride in being able to supply the purest quality oats in the UK which are approved by the Celiac Society and provide many people with tasty options without. PureOaty is the only milk alternative made from 100% gluten-free British oats (and never from concentrate or syrup).
What are the environmental benefits of locally sourced UK oat milk? How does Glebe Farm compare sustainably to its rivals and why is it important to know where our plant milk comes from?
It is essential to buy local British produce wherever possible, it really is that simple. Locally sourced UK agricultural products have lower food miles than their overseas counterparts, meaning they have to travel far less to get to the consumer, and therefore have lower carbon emissions. Glebe Farm has the lowest food miles on the market.
“Buying British is a clear and tangible way to tackle the climate crisis”
Buying British is a clear and tangible way to tackle the climate crisis. As well as being 100% British, we currently lead the market in environmental stewardship practices. At Glebe Farm, we use our own renewable energy sources to reliably produce high quality products at scale. We have installed over 1,000 solar panels which produce 2.2 million watts of energy per year, which is then used for the production of our oat milk.
Why was the lawsuit with Oatly in 2021 such a turning point for Glebe Farm and UK agriculture?
We capitalized on heightened attention following the Oatly case, most recently with a tongue-in-cheek ‘Oatly sued us, now help us pay our lawyers’ spot at London’s Victoria Station earlier this year. Before the trial, we really were a small fish in a ‘big pond of food’, but the awareness and positive traction we received when the case was decided in our favor, allowed us to reassess which makes us a major player in the oat drink market. This allowed us to show the importance of buying locally and why Glebe Farm stands out from its competition. PureOaty sales have more than doubled this year with new listings at Morrisons, Holland and Barrett.
What are your predictions for the plant-based milk category next year?
Consumer demand for milk alternatives and plant-based options continues to grow, with a CAGR of +14% between 2018 and 2021 and oats gaining significant share. This demand is driven by environmental and health considerations, as consumption moves beyond vegan and becomes mainstream in everyday households.
“We hope to steer consumers away from imported dairy alternatives”
This will inevitably have its own drawbacks, as the popularity of these products will increase, which means that more players will be drawn into the market. As the cost of living continues to rise, buyers will have to become more discerning in their choices in a saturated market. We believe that British provenance, quality and value will continue to be important to consumers. As the only UK plant-based milk alternative on the market, we hope to steer consumers away from imported dairy alternatives with higher food miles.
What’s next for Glebe Farm?
We seek to make Glebe Farm the most ‘real’ food business in the UK. Since relaunching the visual redesign of our PureOaty range, we continue to go from strength to strength, with annual sales exploding by millions of liters per year. We are expanding our product offering with the development of our PureOaty Organic, scheduled to launch in late September 2022. There is a genuine consumer desire for more environmentally friendly products that don’t compromise on taste or performance. .
We also invest heavily in talent within our company, we recently hired three heavy hitters to strengthen our sales team and we are really excited about the wealth of knowledge and experience that now lies within the company, it’s going to be a great year for us. Stay tuned.