Minor Figures is gearing up to launch the first ‘lite’ barista oat milk, adding yet another alternative milk to cafe menus around the world.
Speaking to SmartCompany, co-founder Jonathan Chiu noted it’s not the first time the Melbourne-based oat milk and cold brew coffee brand has introduced cafes and coffee drinkers to a new dairy milk alternative.
In 2018, Minor Figures was first to market with a barista version of oat milk in Australia, Chiu says.
“When cafes tried it, it was really in the cup, they could taste how much better it was than other non-dairy milks,” he says.
Since then, Minor Figures barista oat milk has rapidly expanded to markets outside Australia, selling in the UK, US, New Zealand, Japan, Singapore, Taiwan, Malaysia, Korea and Canada among others.
“The US is very new to us. So, we’re just building the team now, which will be a big contributor to the group,” Chiu says.
In the past three years, Minor Figures’ year-on-year global sales growth has ranged between 200% to 300%, Chiu says.
And, since 2017, its team has grown from four to 65 people.
“Off the back of oat milk being successful in coffee shops, grocery retail is really firing up now,” Chiu says.
Standing out in a crowded market
The rise of dairy-free milk has seen soy, almond, coconut, macadamia, rice and oat milk feature on many a specialty coffee shop menu.
When asked why Minor Figures’ oat milk has proved so successful, Chiu says it comes down to a few things.
Firstly, Minor Figures has its roots in coffee.
The three co-founders, Chiu, Stuart Forsyth and William Rixon, established the businesses in 2014 in London, launching ready-made cold brew iced coffee in Tetrapak.
After developing oat milk for their cold brew products, the three founders decided to launch it as a stand-alone product in recyclable, one litre cartons.
For the founders, the goal was to create a product that didn’t smother the characteristics of the espresso, or the work of the roaster, the coffee shop, and barista.
“It was really important to us that we didn’t ruin all that hard work and smother it by making it taste like oats,” he says.
Building relationships at a ‘grass roots level’
On top of standing out with a coffee-focused product, Minor Figures’ oat milk took off after it worked closely with specialty Australian coffee roasters.
Chiu says he worked with roasters to distribute the milk to cafes, and even did latte art competitions to build positive relationships within the hospitality industry.
“Working with reputable roasters has given us cut through at a really grass roots level,” he says.
“We were fortunate that some really fantastic coffee shops, top tier coffee shops took us on.”
Coffee shops such as Burnside, Terror Twilight, Coffee Supreme and Five Senses were among the first to take on Minor Figures oat milk.
Just last year, the business launched ‘free days’, paying cafes for all the oat milk lattes they sold in one day, and promoting their businesses.
“We promoted roasters and did interviews, giving them another channel to sell more coffee bags,” Chiu says.
And when the pandemic hit, Minor Figures’ accountants and designers got together to create a ‘financial COVID health guide’ for their coffee shop customers.
“We’ve put so much energy into the coffee channel and community,” Chiu says.