The family behind Singapore’s SUPER coffee is redefining the way people enjoy oat milk

June 25, 2024

Vulcan Post

Oatly. Oatside. Otis Oat Milk.

These are just a few of the oat milk brands I immediately notice on supermarket shelves. Alternative dairy products have truly become commonplace nowadays, with countless options available in the market.

One Singaporean brand that is changing the game, though, is Oatbedient.

Unlike the other brands I mentioned, Oatbedient focuses on creating instant mixes for oat milk, which can then be reconstituted with warm water.

Here’s the story behind the business.

A SUPER start 

Behind Oatbedient is a single-family office called Apricot Capital. And behind Apricot Capital is the family behind the popular FMCG business SUPER Group.

You’ve likely drank SUPER’s instant coffee mixes before. Even if you haven’t, you must admit that their red, white, and green logo is a staple in supermarkets convenience stores.

In 2017, after divesting out of the group, the Teo family had started up Apricot Capital. It was five years later in 2022 that they had an opportunity to start a new brand by the name of Oatbedient.

Speaking to Vulcan Post, second-generation scion Elaine Teo shared, “The family had invested a substantial amount into a plant-based manufacturing plant that managed to turn oat milk into powder formats.”

Elaine revealed that only a few factories in the world have the ability to do so. “We’re so strong in our technical manufacturing background, so we were able to do it.”

Equipped with this oat milk powder, the team tried to convince other instant drink manufacturers to switch to their formulation instead of using non-dairy creamer, which isn’t the healthiest due to the use of hydrogenated oils.

However, they realised the impetus for these manufacturers to change was very minimal. Many had the “If it’s not broken, why fix it?” mindset.

Noting the slow adoption, they thought, “Why not do something of our own and be the leader of it?”

With that, Oatbedient was born.

Delicious and nutritious

Beyond that, Elaine said that a key reason for starting Oatbedient was because they “really couldn’t find a good alternative for our children.”

It’s no secret that children love to buy things like chocolate malted beverages. But being in the industry, Elaine knows how many unnecessary ingredients are involved—fillers, preservatives, additives, and flavourings.

“You don’t need all these,” she pointed out. “You just need good manufacturing practices. You just need to have the mission to feed the community with clean label, nutritious products.”

And that’s exactly with Oatbedient is doing, charged by an ambition to offer nutritious and healthier choices, specifically in the beverages segment.

“I’m very proud to say that most of the brands that you see out there, they’re probably about nine to 11 ingredients. But for us we stay very steadfast in terms of what we deliver. We only have about four to five,” Elaine said.

Just take a look at Oatbedient’s chocolate powdered drink. It only involves oat milk, cocoa powder, sugar, and malt extract.

“The way you do it is very relatively simple—just be generous in terms of giving, in terms of what you put inside the product,” the co-founder pointed out.

She also added that the person who created the formulation was actually her father, David Teo, who is the founder and pioneer of SUPER’s iconic 3-in-1 coffee mix.

Product as the logic, branding as the magic

In April 2022, Oatbedient was launched in the Singaporean and Malaysian market.

“I still remember when we launched it, because it was so new in the market,” Elaine recalled. “Soluble oat milk, right? We were very unsure in terms of acceptability.”

As good as the product is, gaining traction with consumers is a whole different ball game.

But to that end, Elaine herself has been heading the branding, marketing, and new product development for SUPER Group for 18 years, so she understands the challenges with starting a new brand.

“The product must be able to deliver, that would be the logic,” she said. “And then, the magic would be the brand.”

Elaine wanted a brand personality that was quirky, witty, and up-to-date, with no human elements, as that enables Oatbedient to have a wider, international appeal.

“I deliberately picked a non-CPG (consumer packaged goods) brand design firm to help me with it, and it’s a local setup,” she added.

The reason for going with people who aren’t experts in consumer packaged goods was because Elaine believes that going to a typical packaging company will end up giving them a result that looks like someone else on the shelf.

Competing against the rest

While Oatbedient has a clear USP, it’s still up against a lot of competition. As Elaine herself said, their target audience is larger than those who are looking for plant-based milk alternatives. Rather, they’re fighting in the even more saturated instant drink segment.

Elaine recognises that a lot of education is still needed to make Oatbedient’s strengths clear.

In Singapore and the wider Southeast Asia region, it seems like only discerning mums are more cognisant of clean labelled goods.

But, over time, Elaine has seen a bigger group of people who have become much more aware and conscious about what they put in their mouths.

“I was in a meeting, and I was quite surprised when this young person, he’s a male who is 20-odd years old,” she recalled. “He told me, ‘You know there’s actually a lot of seed oils in oat milks that causes worry’.”

And certainly, she does know. Many oat beverages on the market tend to add oils to have an improved texture.

But for Oatbedient’s ready-to-drink (RTD) product, Oat Milk Zero only has three ingredients—Himalayan salt, oat, and water.

That said, Oatbedient does have oils in its barista blend as the creaminess is needed for frothing.

So, how are they able to create these healthy products while maintaining a satisfactory taste? Well, lots and lots of research and many, many rounds of development. “To a point where we ask ourselves, ‘Why are we doing this?’” Elaine laughed.

But in spite of those moments, the Oatbedient team is very serious about not rushing into products, as they truly want to deliver the best, striving to never cave and take shortcuts.

“I’m so proud of my team,” Elaine shared. “There was once when we had an external partner we worked with, and we couldn’t get the taste we wanted. And the external partner said, ‘Why not just add some flavouring?’ My team was giving him a smirk, like, ‘No, we won’t do that’.”

Oatwards and upwards

Today, Oatbedient is in Malaysia and Singapore and has representation in Brunei, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Philippines, and a little in China.

These are small markets for them as of now, as they’d need to find the right partners in order to scale there.

Elaine shared that Oatbedient has done trade shows in the US, where people had loved the brand an products. However, the market is not quite ready for instant formats, she believes.

Still, that goes to show the international appeal that Oatbedient’s quirky branding has. With that in mind, I wondered whether Singaporeans actually see the brand as a local or foreign one.

Elaine believes that at least half of the people would know that Oatbedient is local, given its efforts.

“The tide has kind of shifted in the sense that more Singaporeans are willing to support Singaporean brands,” she added.

Recognising that Southeast Asia—and Asia in general—is their home turf, Elaine said that the Oatbedient team will be focusing on the region to grow their brand.

Everything else? Well, that would simply be a bonus.