Final week the web mob turned its eye on an unsuspecting topic: oat milk. It began with Twitter user Katherine Champagne, who wrote in a tweet on April 5: “I’m nonetheless in awe that Oatly created tremendous sugar grain juice, minimize it with canola oil, after which efficiently used (superb) advertising to persuade everybody that no, that is Good.” Connected was a screenshot from “Oatly: The New Coke,” an August 2020 story written by Nat Eliason that ran in the Almanack enterprise e-newsletter. A enterprise author and digital entrepreneur, Eliason sought to show Oatly, a wildly well-liked milk substitute made primarily from oats, for what he claims it truly is: junk meals.
Predictably, diet Twitter went nuts. Loads of the responses had been alongside the traces of: How dare they market this glorified sugar syrup as wholesome! Others had been extra critical, stating that oat milk is much from a “tremendous sugar grain juice” and that the majority customers aren’t guzzling the stuff within the portions (a cup and a half at a time) that Eliason—who has no dietary training or credentials—recommended in his article.
To be trustworthy, after writing about diet for a decade, the one factor that surprises me concerning the controversy is that anybody finds the truth that Oatly is usually advertising stunning in any respect.
Eliason’s e-newsletter story begins by chronicling the lengthy historical past of manufacturers utilizing deceptive well being claims to posit that merchandise are higher for you than they really are. He makes use of the sugar trade, the tobacco trade, and Coca-Cola as examples of this sort of advertising. Then he argues that Oatly is doing the identical factor.
The article suggests that, like Coke, Oatly is nothing greater than a sugar-laden processed drink that has tricked customers into believing it ought to be a staple of their weight loss plan. He’s proper in some methods (extra on that later), however there’s a fairly obtrusive flaw in his argument.
Oatly Is Not Coke
Earlier than we speak about Oatly’s (admittedly sneaky) advertising technique, let’s get one thing straight: Oatly oat milk will not be nutritionally equal to Coke. An eight-ounce serving of Oatly incorporates 120 energy, 5 grams of fats, 16 grams of carbohydrates (together with 7 grams of added sugar), and three grams of protein. A 12-ounce can of Coke has an analogous variety of energy (140), however they arrive fully from 38 grams of sugar. These numbers aren’t even near equal. Even 12 ounces of Oatly—which Eliason assumes is the quantity folks put of their morning espresso—incorporates 24 grams of carbs and 11 grams of sugar. That’s nonetheless lower than one-third of the sugar in Coke. Saying that the 2 are equal is absurd.
Examine Oatly with 2 % dairy milk, which has 122 energy, 5 grams of fats, 12 grams of carbs (all from naturally occurring sugar), and eight grams of protein in an eight-ounce serving. Oatly has lower than half the protein of normal milk, about 30 % extra carbs, and an analogous quantity of fats and energy. And though dairy milk has nearly twice as a lot sugar as Oatly, Eliason claims that the sugar in Oatly—maltose—is considerably worse for you than the sugar in dairy—lactose—as a result of it has the next glycemic load. “You’re spiking your blood sugar each time you add it to your espresso,” he says
Similar to the advertising techniques that Eliason calls out, the glycemic-load argument falls into the class of true however deceptive statements. First, in case you’re placing a pair ounces of Oatly in your espresso, you’re solely consuming a couple of grams of sugar and gained’t expertise any drastic results. Second, any protein-, fat-, or fiber-containing meals will gradual the absorption of this sugar. So in case you put some oat milk within the espresso that you just drink alongside your breakfast, the entire “spiking your blood sugar” factor is a moot level. And to reiterate, even consuming an entire glass of Oatly on an empty abdomen wouldn’t have practically as huge an impact in your blood sugar as consuming a can of Coke.
Deceptive Advertising and marketing Is Nothing New
Oatly might not be Coca-Cola, however it’s true that its advertising makes suspect well being claims. In 2020, the corporate tried (and failed) to trademark the phrase “It’s like milk however made for people” from a marketing campaign designed to persuade folks that cow’s milk is made for child calves, and subsequently not meant for human consumption. Moms of many species produce milk particularly to feed their infants. However that doesn’t imply it may well’t present diet for different species, too. There’s a big physique of proof supporting cow’s milk for human well being, and, most necessary, except you’re lactose illiberal, it’s actually not going to harm you.
The model additionally goes arduous on the truth that its product incorporates fiber, calling it “probably the most superb fiber within the drinkable world.” However Oatly solely incorporates two grams of fiber per serving, about 8 % of what’s beneficial every day for girls and 5 % of what’s beneficial for males. That’s nothing to get excited over. Oatlyadditionally emphasizes the entire “No GMO” factor, though each the World Well being Group and the Meals and Drug Administration have repeatedly confirmed the protection of the GMOs accessible for consumption.
Oatly isn’t the primary health-food firm or commerce group to cherry-pick info in its advertising. Entrepreneurs for milk have been doing the identical factor for many years; the “Obtained Milk?” marketing campaign implies that dairy consumption is crucial for wholesome human progress. In actuality, there’s nothing magic about dairy milk; it’s a very good supply of calcium and vitamin D (which is added throughout processing), however an individual can get these vitamins in different methods: Oatly and different plant-based milks are fortified with each vitamins, for instance. Plus, many giant research on dairy consumption are funded at the very least partly by the dairy trade.
Even vegetables and fruit are marketed with obscure and deceptive claims. The California Avocado Fee runs adverts with slogans like “No surprise it’s good for being pregnant” (as a result of avocados include folate) and “No surprise it’s good for the eyes” (as a result of avocados include lutein, a carotenoid that’s linked to improved eye well being). Sure, these necessary vitamins are current in avocados, however they’re additionally present in related ranges in lots of different meals.
“Superfoodsare sometimes designated as such due to excessive ranges of micronutrients, antioxidants, or different arbitrary traits,” says Cara Harbstreet, a registered dietitian and proprietor of Avenue Good Diet. That’s what the avocado people are attempting to do. However there’s no clearly outlined standards—like nutrient density or bioavailability—that determines which meals qualify for that label, Harbstreet explains. It’s simply good advertising.
So, sure, Oatly markets itself as a brilliant nutritious and game-changing beverage, when really it’s simply one other drink. But it surely’s patently unfair to proclaim that Oatly is identical as Coke. “An announcement like this carries related power because the assertion ‘Sugar is as addicting as cocaine,’” Harbstreet says. Sure, the 2 substances gentle up the identical pleasure facilities in your mind, however so do intercourse, music, and cute child animals. And sugar doesn’t meet different habit standards, like obsessive substance looking for and elevated tolerance. “Each statements sound sensational, elicit worry or distrust of a product, and make you query what you knew or believed to be true,” says Harbstreet. They’re additionally each primarily based on half-truths.
It’s All Simply Meals
Oatly has taken a web page out of the age-old food-marketing e-book by making its product sound Good extra nutritious than it truly is. This can be a little devious, for certain, however it’s nothing new or distinctive. It’s how entrepreneurs trick us into considering that sure processed meals ought to be central to a nutritious diet, or that some entire meals are superfoods and thus a lot better for us than different entire meals.
Oatly is not any superfood, however it’s additionally not horribly unhealthy. Nutritionally, it’s pretty much like dairy milk, and really has extra calcium and vitamin D per cup than the actual stuff. For individuals who select plant-based diets, that’s fairly nice.
On the finish of the day, there’s reality on each aspect of the Oatly argument, however there’s additionally an entire lot of spin. Your greatest wager, as all the time, is to eat quite a lot of nutritious meals (and a number of the not so nutritious ones that you just love, too!) and pay as little consideration as potential to the best way they’re marketed.