What Oatly and the Alt-Milk Revolution Can Teach Us About the Importance Of Consumer Sentiment

For anyone who thought the increasing popularity of alternative milk products was just a fad, the recent IPO of Swedish oat milk innovator Oatly may have come as a surprise. The offering put the brand at a valuation of $10 billion, and celebrity backers like Oprah, Natalie Portman, and Jay Z helped continue to boost its profile. Oatly itself isn't new — it's been around since 1994 — but the marketplace itself is wildly changed.

You can chalk this up to a lot of things — new demographics, increased environmental awareness, better marketing, taste itself — but there’s no better way to understand what’s going on with alternative milks (or any other product segment) than by hearing it straight from the people who impact it the most: the customers.

Gaining fast and accurate insights from reviews & ratings

Start scrolling the reviews of any product on a site that represents a lot of sales, like Amazon, and you can begin to synthesize people’s general feelings about that product. Of course, this can be extremely time-consuming, and trends can be difficult to spot (we’ve all gone down that head-spinning rabbit hole of reading endless reviews to figure out which new supplement or gadget to buy).

However, with a reviews and ratings analysis platform like Yogi, you can get to those insights much faster. Yogi uses natural language processing (NLP) algorithms to scan and analyze customer sentiments from aggregated reviews, accomplishing in minutes what would take you many hours of tedious work. For this look at the changing nature of the milk space, we used the platform to pull in 2,078 reviews for the highest-reviewed milk products on Amazon, including traditional milk, soy milk, almond milk, and oat milk.

Review volume tells an important part of the story

Before we even get into the reasons why people are choosing some of these products, there are some basic insights we can see simply by looking at review volumes over time. The past three years have been particularly impactful in the rise of alternative milks, and by mapping review volumes for the top products over that period, we can not only see that rise, but also the success of particular brands.

With soy milk initially achieving the most success, and Silk acting as the most high-profile brand in that market, you see its dominance in volume from 2018 to 2020. Interestingly, you can also see how Oatly’s rise in late 2019 and into 2020 led directly to a corresponding dip for Silk. One easy thing to assume here is that people who were loyal to Silk were swayed to try something new by Oatly’s increasing hype.

It also seems to say that people aren’t as committed to soy milk (or almond milk, which Silk also makes), as much as they are to finding the milk substitute they like best. The fact that Oatly is made from oats instead of soybeans or almonds wasn’t a barrier to entry — the novelty could have even made it more appealing. (Oatly was also doing an excellent job getting their product to baristas, via a special blend they could market to customers on the spot. Given that you can’t do a taste test in the supermarket, it was an inspired move.)

Meanwhile, California-based Califia Farms has managed to overtake both Oatly and Silk in terms of review volume, apparently seeing even greater success without all the splashy marketing and headlines. (Califia has its own barista blends too, however.) Of course, not all reviews are good reviews, and not all brands score on every point.

Discovering the most important themes in the conversation

When Yogi’s NLP algorithms analyze ingested reviews, they can quickly determine the driving themes behind what customers are talking about. For this analysis, the platform found 12 distinct themes, ranging from the most expected, like “Taste & Texture,” to more microfocused aspects, like “Frothing Experience.” The platform reveals the breakdown of these themes by percentage, so you can see both what people are talking about and how much each topic is dominating the conversation.

To take it a level further, we can drill down and map each of these things to consumer sentiment — so, rather than looking at brand sentiment as a single number, we can see how each brand performs on each theme. It’s when you combine all this information that the most valuable picture starts to emerge.

As you can see, despite the fact that Califia Farms won out in terms of review volume, both Silk and Oatly pull ahead when it comes to total average sentiment across themes — with Oatly beating out all the others as the clear frontrunner. Of course, individual metrics still matter, and something like “Drinking Experience,” where Califia maintains the lead, is a very crucial one. But when you see the wide variety of areas where customers are expressing satisfaction with Oatly, it offers a better idea of why the brand currently gets so much love.

It’s also worth noting something like the large positive sentiment around the above-mentioned “Frothing Experience” for Oatly — as this is actually the largest topic of conversation in Oatly reviews while barely making a dent in those of any other brand. This shows that not only is Oatly owning the conversation for this aspect of the segment, but that it may have actually gotten people talking about it in the first place. For any other brand looking to really compete in this space, the frothability of your product may suddenly be a lot more important.

The big picture is just the starting point

When we zoom out beyond the brands to look at the higher-level individual segments of the industry, more things become clear about where things stand — the high-profile of Oatly and Califia Farms’ similar playbooks on oat milk have supercharged the space, currently dominating all other forms of milk on consumer sentiment (specifically within the reviews sampled for this analysis). Naturally, this doesn’t indicate that oat milk is actually outselling cow’s milk — it isn’t, just yet — but it does show a strong trend in what people currently like and why they like it. And trends like that can tell us a lot about where we’re heading.

For more insights and trend reports, or to learn more about what Yogi can do for your business, contact us today for a free demo.

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