Oat milk brand YOOK banks on ‘superior’ taste and texture to propel expansion into Asia and Middle East

By Hui Ling Dang

- Last updated on GMT

YOOK seeks to break into the Asian and Middle Eastern markets with its oat drinks. ©YOOK
YOOK seeks to break into the Asian and Middle Eastern markets with its oat drinks. ©YOOK

Related tags Middle east oat milk plant-based milk Taste

Estonian oat milk brand YOOK is looking to capitalise on the pureness, nutritional value and “superior” taste of its products to break into the Asian and Middle Eastern markets.

After more than a year of development, YOOK was launched in the Baltic states, namely Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, in February.

The brand was subsequently introduced to the global audience at Gulfood held in Dubai, where its Organic Oat Drink won the “Best Health and Wellness Product” prize at Gulfood Innovation Awards 2024.

“We are really happy to enter the market with such a big bang. Our target markets are divided into two — Asia and the GCC, where we are actively looking for distributors and potential partners to begin exports to these regions. This is mainly why we are participating in Gulfood.

“We’re also seeing a lot of demand from Asia, such as South Korea, Vietnam and Singapore, so we are very positive [about expansion]. It’d be great if we could find long-term partnerships, but it is okay to start with a small shipment. The aim is to find partners who would invest in and build the brand with us, so we can grow together,” ​Katre Kõvask, CEO of YOOK Production, told FoodNavigator-Asia​.

Kõvask added that plant-based drinks are no longer a niche category, therefore “all the rules” that apply to any fast-moving consumer goods also apply to dairy alternatives. 

“In the dairy sector, the product development cycle is very fast. This will probably also be the future for oat drinks or any plant-based products, so we will have to keep up. At the same time, we need to constantly work on finding new markets.”

Currently, YOOK’s line-up of oat milks comprises three flavours, Vitamins & Calcium Oat Drink, Barista Oat Drink, and Organic Oat Drink.

The brand is planning to introduce two new flavours, Chocolate and Mango, in May.

“These new flavours would be interesting and cater for the Asian market. We will also be playing around with different formats, so by the next Gulfood, our range should already be much larger.”

Oats only

While product development is ongoing at full steam, YOOK’s focus will remain solely on oat products.

“First of all, we want to focus on something that we do very well. Secondly, we would like to keep out all allergens from our factory. With soy and nuts, they have problems with allergies, so we don’t want to incorporate them.

“Also, we are aiming to become a zero carbon business, so we need to be really sustainable [in our operations]. For example, we are producing our own energy with a solar farm by turning the waste created by our manufacturing process into biofuel,” ​Kõvask explained.

All YOOK products are entirely made in Estonia at the moment, but the firm does not rule out setting up overseas facilities in the future.

“If we see that the client needs us to be in their locality, we are willing to go and build another factory. We are also open to doing private labels, so we are very flexible.”

Rising above competition

Despite being new to the field, YOOK is already starting to overtake competitors in the Baltic states, according to Kõvask.

In particular, Barista Oat Drink is designed especially for the HoReCa sector. It has a mild flavour that is meant to complement and not overpower the taste of coffee. It also produces a good foam stability, making the coffee pleasantly creamy.
Besides being enriched with vitamins B2, B12, D2 and calcium, the product is gluten- and lactose-free, and does not contain any added sugars.

“Estonian food in general is very pure, potentially the purest in Europe. At YOOK, we use only organic oat flakes. I think the key reason why we won the Gulfood award is because of the pureness and nutritional value of the drink, as well as its smooth texture.”

Recognising that there is indeed no lack of oat drinks in the market right now, Kõvask believes YOOK can rise above the competition by focusing on the taste aspect.

“There is always the dilemma over being the first mover or a latecomer. When you are the first, you need to build a category, you have to do a lot of marketing to create demand and so on, but you will have a certain advantage in that.

“If you are a latecomer to the market, you have to be different, you have to be more flexible, and you really have to work hard on the taste. It sounds trivial but because it’s food, taste is everything.If you don’t produce the best taste, then you’re not going to get results.”

In addition, Kõvask shared that the company has invested “a lot of time and money” into achieving superior taste, alongside the help of food scientists.

“Apart from the Gulfood accolade, we also received an award from the International Taste Institute. These are proof that what we are saying about taste and the importance of it is true.”

Healthier Product Innovation will be a major topic of focus at Growth Asia Summit 2024 this year – join us in Singapore to gain insights from major industry experts, find out more here

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