VICTORIAN-BASED processor, Unigrain, has announced a plan to construct an oat milk facility at its cereal and pulse-ingredient production site at Smeaton, north of Ballarat.
The facility will be the first of its kind in Australia to fully integrate oat processing and oat-milk base.
Once complete, it will produce a fresh oat-milk base capable of broad supply across the Australian market.
The oat base produced through the enzymatic treatment of oat flour is the core ingredient in the production of all oat-milk formulations.
The plant is designed to support the production of over 50 million litres of oat milk per year, with the intention to continue expanding capacity on the site as the oat-milk market continues its rapid development.
Unigrain Co-CEO Andrew May said the quality and sustainability of Australian-grown oats will be key to the success of the end product.
“There is great potential for Australia to produce high quality oat milk from locally grown oats, particularly in an environment where sustainability and provenance are becoming increasingly valued by consumers,” Mr May said.
“Our investment continues our commitment and strategy to drive access to high-quality, nutritious and locally grown plant-based ingredients.”
He said there was clear demand in the market for Australian oat-milk base production, with most companies importing the product from the northern hemisphere.
“There is a lot of latent demand for an efficient supply chain for oat-milk production in Australia.
“The common theme is that the market is still very reliant on imported products or imported bases…which isn’t an overly sustainable supply chain.
“The concept will be to have that distributable in bulk format to then partner with companies that have formulating and packing facilities to formulate finished products.”
Unigrain co-CEO Fiona May said oat milk has become the fastest-growing non-dairy milk in the marketplace.
“Consumers are increasingly looking to non-dairy milk-based options, and oat milk has quickly become the fastest-growing drink in this category.
“Relative to existing plant-based options, oats are more sustainably grown, and produce a non-allergen milk that is superior in taste and with a stronger nutritional profile.”
Construction of the facility is set to commence in late 2022 with full-scale production to be under way in 2023.
Unigrain will source oats from Victoria and southern New South Wales to manufacture the oat-milk base.
Mr May said the oat-milk industry will only have a positive affect on Australian oat production.
“The growth in the oat-milk market both for the production of oat-milk base at our own facility and the production of ingredients for other oat-milk manufacturers will have a material impact on the milling-oat market going forward.”
Pulse plant progressing
Ms May said the oat-milk facility will complement Unigrain’s pulse-protein plant, which is currently under construction.
“Coupled with the current construction of our pulse-protein facility at Smeaton, our confidence in the long-term trend towards the consumption of both plant-based foods and beverages remains very strong.”
Unigrain anticipates the pulse-protein plant will be commissioned by the end of the year.
Although the site is yet to manufacture any products, Mr May said he had already had strong interest from companies looking to transform the material into branded consumer goods.
“It is fair to say…we are getting a lot of interest in terms of the use of locally made pulse proteins and we are excited to have product available 2023 onwards.”
Unigrain has recently launched Essantis, a range of plant proteins, starches and flours which will be manufactured at the new plant.
The ingredients will be made from Australian-grown faba beans, red lentils and peas such as yellow field peas and chickpeas.
Alongside its Smeaton site, Unigrain has a mill at Wagin in the Western Australian grainbelt, where oats are also processed, and a limited tonnage of lupins goes into its feedmill.
Unigrain was formed in the 1970s through the merging of Bill May’s WD Seeds, and Costa Group’s Southern Cross Grains.
Unigrain is still jointly owned by the May family, including Bill’s children Andrew and Fiona, and the Costa family.
Yes, there are latent markets for oat milk drinks, especially where there is a fast-ageing population who should be interested in the natural substances in oats with anti-aging effects, Avenanthrimide, for example.