A Startup CPG Story:
Oatmilk, but Better
Betty Tang is the Founder of Upright, a consumer goods company on a mission to make foods that are better for people and our planet starting with a high-protein instant oatmilk that’s as nutritious as dairy – without the cow. Upright launched in May 2022 and has been spotted in Forbes, TechCrunch, Entrepreneur, Taste of Home, and more.
Launching the first high-protein instant oatmilk
My journey with Upright officially started in 2019, but started long before that. I grew up in Vancouver, Canada, which is one of the greenest cities in the world and which nurtured my passion for nature and our environment. I knew I wanted to do something impactful with my career, and I felt like business was the mechanism that made things happen in our world, so I studied Accounting and Sustainability. After graduation once I started my first “real” job in a big city however, I realized it wasn’t so easy to be as sustainable as I had been as a student. I no longer had access to at home composting in my tiny downtown apartment, public transport wasn’t great, and the realities of my job meant I was constantly flying and eating takeout from single use plastic containers.
I researched what I could to reduce my environmental impact, and I realized that food was one of the biggest drivers of my carbon emissions. In particular, I was horrified to learn that the almond milk I drank to be more sustainable (and because I, like 2/3 of all people, suffer from lactose intolerance) was putting a huge strain on water resources. As I researched other plant-based milk alternatives, I realized each had its own tradeoffs when it came to my personal health and the health of our planet.
When I came across oatmilk for the first time in 2019, it felt like the answer to my prayers. Finally! A plant-based alternative that actually tasted good in my coffee, was free of allergens, and had a minimal environmental impact. I told everyone around me about oatmilk at every chance I got, and the most commonly recurring resistance I got was from people who told me that the reduced environmental impact was nice, but they didn’t think they’d switch from dairy milk any time soon because it was such a significant source of protein, vitamins, and minerals. Oatmilk typically has less than 4g of protein (and often none at all!) and is often unfortified, unlike dairy milk. It got me thinking – if this lack of nutrition was the only thing holding people back from switching dairy to a milk alternative that used 13 times less water, 19 square feet less land, and emitted 1.2 pounds fewer of carbon emissions… maybe I should create it. And so, the concept for Upright’s high-protein oatmilk was born.
I recruited others to help me and things were moving along nicely with our preliminary formulation, partnerships with food scientists and contract manufacturers, supply chain building, branding, and fundraising. That is, until the pandemic hit. Suddenly, our final formulation trials with our food science team had to be cancelled, our contract manufacturer didn’t know when they’d have any capacity to help us, and all the investors previously interested told us they needed to focus on their existing portfolios. It felt like we’d need to give up. Fortunately, I had a great mentor who I talked to around this time who encouraged us to keep going and pivot where we needed to. The concept for our instant oatmilk was born, which helped solve for the lack of aseptic packaging and cold chain storage capacity throughout supply chains, as well as the need for shelf-stable nutrient-dense foods as people tried to avoid public places or had to shelter in place. Plus, our instant oatmilk was even better for the environment since it reduced food waste (no more throwing away half-full cartons of expired milk!) and didn’t require refrigeration or the transport of heavy and bulky water, reducing energy used throughout our product’s lifecycle from production to consumer storage.
Upright finally launched sales of our high-protein instant oatmilk in May 2022 after a long journey of completely reformulating our product, building out a new supply chain, fundraising, and developing our brand – all during pandemic restrictions, shortages, and uncertainty. It’s still early days, but I’m excited for what’s to come!
Some lessons learned along the way
- Test early and often. This was tough to do during pandemic restrictions, but I am getting so much valuable feedback now that the product is out in market.
- Choose progress over perfection. I used to obsess over little details that in hindsight, didn’t really matter. I’ve learned to just make a decision and move on for things that can be changed later if needed.
- Ask for help. People want to help.
- Use lawyers for the important stuff. Even if you think you can figure it out yourself and save yourself some money, getting a professional opinion will save you more in the long run.
- Enjoy the process. Difficult and challenging situations will always arise, but I try to learn and have fun as much as I can.
To learn more check out uprightoats.com and follow along on our journey @uprightoats