Photo by CEO Magazine
Photo by CEO Magazine

Toni Petersson










Lifestyle & Culture






What makes Toni Petersson a Global Shaker?

Toni Petersson is the man responsible for making oat milk a thing.

Oatly was founded back in the 1990s and is based on Swedish research from Lund University. The company’s patented enzyme technology copies nature’s own process and turns fibre rich oats into nutritional liquid food that is perfectly designed for humans.

The small Swedish company spent about two decades flagging on the market. Sweden’s love and lobbying of dairy did the company no favours, as did the unfamiliar taste of oat milk.

Petersson joined Oatly as CEO in 2012 after working in varied areas from liquor to lifestyle spanning Sweden to Costa Rica.

Having witnessed a rise in popularity of soy and almond milk in recent years, Toni decided to reorient Oatly’s marketing towards younger, trendier milk drinkers.

Subsequently, he went about redesigning Oatly’s packaging with minimalistic, contemporary typesetting and produced a number of obscure TV ads.

In one clip, he enters into a 30-second debate with a cow over Oatly’s commitment to producing plant-based milks. In another, he stands alone in a field with a synthesiser, repeating the Oatly’s catchphrase “Wow, no cow!”.

Other ads by the alternative milk company include a series of quirky videos where unimpressed old people try out the milk for the first time. The campaign was weird, but, gave Oatly an “instantly identifiable attitude that positioned oat milk as a unique and adventurous milk alternative,” says CEO Magazine.

“When it comes to business, my strength is bringing ideas to fruition,” Toni told The CEO Magazine. “You can have the most beautiful product in the world but it is worthless if you don’t have the strategy and execution. With Oatly, what I kept asking myself was, ‘How do we make this business relevant to people?’ That was what we wanted to answer with the marketing campaign.”

Oatly also launched a Barista edition which can now be seen in any artisan coffee shop that caters to hipsters and coffee snobs — important as these are the people setting the trends and the high standards of the coffee industry today.

Since its US launch in 2016, Oatly had gone from supplying a handful of upscale New York coffee shops to more than 3,000 cafes and grocery stores nationwide. The company had ramped up production by 1,250%, but has had some struggles keeping up with demand.

In 2018, Brooklyn experienced a dramatic Oatly shortage which also affected the UK and Sweden. People took to twitter outraged and coffee shops had to put up signs to let oat milk fans know about the drought.

“In the past year, Oatly has doubled in size. Anyone can tell you that puts pressure on a company,” says Toni. “I think it’s important, though, that we don’t become overly corporate and institute too much of a structure because of it. That would be the easy thing to do, but it would destroy so much of our flexibility.

While the shortage may have been a little embarrassing to the company and inconvenient to consumers, it acted as a publicity stunt that made the product all the more interesting.

Petersson is now setting his sights on expanding Oatly to the Chinese and South-East Asian markets.

Tags: coffee, sustainable food

Last updated: August 26, 2019