[Startup Bharat] How these entrepreneurs built an oat milk brand from Kanpur
When former Barclays executive Rishabh Gupta discovered he was lactose intolerant, he decided to switch to plant-based milk products.
For over seven years, while he was pursuing his education and later working in London, he did not find it difficult to source alternative dairy products. But when he visited India, he realised these were not easily available locally.
This is when Rishabh got an idea to start a non-dairy milk firm. He got in touch with his childhood friend Akash Wadhwani, who also happened to be lactose intolerant. Akash was studying data visualisation in London between 2018 and 2019, and was keen on starting a business in the space. The two decided to return to India and set up their business in 2020.
Rishabh Gupta (right) and Akash Wadhwani (left) got an idea to start a non-dairy milk firm as both co-founders have been lactose intolerant.
The duo incorporated their firm as WG Corp in November 2020. Instead of having a brand name, the duo titled their productlater as they felt it would be easy to explain.
“People still don’t know what oat milk is. Many people were asking us about how it is made and so on. So, if we put a brand name on top, it would be too much to explain. We thought it would be best to name our product Oat Mlk. We also plan on staying as a milk company for a long time,” says Akash.
The early days
The co-founders met with many challenges before any milk bottles could be rolled out for distribution. The initial process was to decide on the raw material and develop a prototype.
“We returned to India and began sampling the world of soy, almond, and coconut milk. No matter what, nothing could be compared with the creamy texture of oat milk, making almost everything super delicious,” Rishabh tells YourStory.
The duo initially began sampling oat milk at home, and after about 162 variations, they agreed on a sample. WG Corp started producing about 100 bottles every month through a third-party manufacturer in Punjab in November 2021.
After figuring out their manufacturer, the founders were now looking to enter the business side first, catering to hotels, restaurants, and cafes, among other businesses. They were also looking to enter modern trade stores by trying to gain shelf spaces.
“In today’s world, getting sales through digital channels means a huge investment towards performance marketing. We wanted to have less expenses in the initial phase of our business. Hence, it seemed better to target the B2B side and simultaneously set up the backend for direct-to-consumer channels,” says Akash.
The co-founders, who bootstrapped the firm with Rs 15 lakh from their own funds, claim their milk gets delivered anywhere within 24 hours. The company also raised about Rs 1 crore in seed round from angel investors in April 2022.
The startup has tied up with select distributors in every city, who can deliver their products within a timeframe. Companies usually use such tactics to get better services and give distributors a little extra margin.
As of now, OatMlk is present across 25 cities, including Mumbai, Bengaluru, and Delhi, and is also available in around 300 retail stores since November last year. The startup has also tied up with 25 hotels, including Ritz Carlton, Four Seasons, Taj, and 120 cafes.
Credit: YourStory Design
As of now, about 80 percent of the sales come from B2B channels, but going forward the company is building its direct to consumer (D2C) channels. OatMlk is present across marketplaces, including Vvegano and its own website.
“We want to be able to send our milk to consumers within 2-3 hours, if not less, and now I think we would be able to do that,” says Akash.
The startup charges Rs 149 per 500 ml bottle of oat milk. It is also developing small size products, including 100 ml and 250 ml bottles, to help people test the product.
The Kanpur-based startup, with a ten-member team, claims to have grown about 10 times in the last six months in terms of products sold.
The market and plans ahead
Milk is a staple in most houses across India. According to Statista, the dairy industry in India produces 198 million metric tons of milk, with Uttar Pradesh being the highest producer, as of April 2022.
However, there are many small firms operating in the dairy-free milk space, including Bengaluru-based GoodMylk, Slicc, and Urban Platter, an online marketplace with its own private label, which also produces oat milk.
The startup is looking to bring in more product sizes in future. As of now, it offers 500 ml bottles, and wants to expand it to 250 ml, 1 litre, and even 2 litre milk bottles in the coming months. However, its main focus is to expand to the direct to consumer (D2C) channel.