We catch up with Alex and Callum, the founders of Edinburgh oat milk brand Untitled Oats, to find out how and why they decided to set up business
When did you set up Untitled Oats?
Callum: We formally started in July 2020, however there were a lot of messages pinged back and forth beforehand during lockdown.
I had just finished my Sustainable Development degree at the University of Edinburgh and was asking Alex (likewise recent graduate – Chemical Engineering at Imperial College London) about how to do certain industrial processes.
A symbiosis was born and Alex bit the bullet and moved to Edinburgh. Untitled Oats, or Untitled Oat Project at the time, was born.
Why oat milk?
Alex: Of all the plant-based milks, oat milk has one of the lowest carbon footprints, and is the only one which can realistically be mass produced from only UK ingredients.
Oat milk has also surged in popularity in recent years due to its superior flavour and milk-like texture, yet the market remains dominated by a few big players, most of which are based overseas.
Oats are also an iconic part of Scottish history and heritage, and there are even traditional Scots recipes for oat-based drinks (Brose)!
What do you wish you’d known when you first started setting up the business?
Callum: If you want a quick answer, call someone. Never underestimate what assistance, equipment or advice you can get for free just by asking!
I’d also recommend getting accounting software before your first transactions as importing your transactions and practices is time consuming, some software comes free with certain accounts.
Demand is hard to calculate until you experience it, but if you are trying to make a positive difference people will always be keen and so try to always think multiple steps ahead.
Alex and Callum set up Untitled Oats as a joint venture
Right now you only deliver in Edinburgh, are you planning to take Untitled Oats nationwide at any point?
Alex: Absolutely, that’s a huge goal of ours for 2021.
Our product currently requires refrigeration which makes shipping difficult, however we are hoping to find a distributor to work with.
Another challenge is packaging – all the plant-milks you can find in a supermarket are packaged in tetrapak cartons, which are lined with multiple layers of plastic. Although they are recyclable, doing so is problematic and some studies suggest certain plastic bottles are actually easier to recycle.
We package our product in glass bottles, which we collect, clean, and reuse. This is much better for the environment and allows us to pass on savings to our customers, however this isn’t suited to nationwide delivery so we will need to find an alternative solution. Keep an eye on our Instagram page for developments on this.
How did you fund the set-up of Untitled Oats?
Callum: We each put aside a small amount of savings and also received a business loan.
We’ve also been lucky to receive a few grants, namely from the Princes’ Trust, Spokes (an Edinburgh cycle initiative) and the University of Edinburgh’s Initiative Grant. These have really helped us buy the necessary equipment to test our market and begin to produce on a small scale.
We’ve got to where we are now as frugally as possible, which I think has made us carefully consider exactly what we need.
How do you aim to compete against all the big brand, established oat milks such as Oatly?
Alex: We won’t be able to compete with billion-dollar companies on quality alone, however we can make a product and process that is much more sustainable.
We have a UK-only sourcing policy for ingredients, reuse our glass packaging, use organic oats as standard, and deliver using a zero-emission eCargo bike. Although this commitment to sustainability is a large risk for us whilst aiming to be price-competitive, we trust that our company ethics will set us apart and that our customers will share our values.
To expand we will always carefully consider the environmental implications of our operations, and any stakeholders we work with.
What are your long term goals for Untitled Oats?
Callum: We wish to challenge the traditional animal dairy sector by producing products that are more ethical and environmentally friendly.
We are aiming to expand production as much as we can, producing nutritious dairy alternatives from Scottish oats. On the horizon we have creams, yoghurts and even a cheeky whisky concoction in the works.
We’d love to lead the homegrown plant milk market and inspire other producers to challenge the status quo.