Oatly shares surge in US market debut, valuing oat milk maker at $13 bln

The vegan milk maker has been widely credited for popularizing oat milk in several countries.
The vegan milk maker has been widely credited for popularizing oat milk in several countries. Photo credit: Getty Images

Shares of Oprah Winfrey-backed Oatly Group AB jumped 30 percent in their market debut on Thursday, valuing the Swedish oat milk maker at about $13 billion, as demand for plant-based food products surges globally.

Oatly's strong debut, along with that of construction software firm Procore Technologies, is expected to restore short-term confidence in U.S. initial public offerings. That market has been rocked by recent inflation fears that forced investors to abandon growth stocks.

Shares of Sweden-based Oatly, whose investors also include rapper Jay Z and former Starbucks Corp head Howard Schultz, opened at $22 a share.

The vegan milk maker, which has been widely credited for popularizing oatmilk in several countries, on Wednesday went public at $17 a share, raising $1.4 billion.

Oatly, which sells in more than 20 markets across Europe, the United States and China, is known chiefly for its oat milk products and has tie-ups with several U.S. cafes, including Starbucks. Oatly is so popular in some key markets that it has faced supply shortages.

"The proceeds that we're going to get is going to be used to build out the capacity across these three continents, where we are building the demand," Toni Petersson, chief executive of Oatly, said in an interview.

"Demand keeps organically increasing all the time. So we have had a hard time keeping up."

Plant-based foods have gained investor interest over the past few years, especially as fast-food chains and upscale restaurants create new menus to attract health- and environment-conscious diners.

Much of the demand is being led by millennials and generation Z consumers, who are more than willing to spend on sustainable products that are also healthy.

In 2020, U.S. plant-based retail sales hit $7 billion, up 27 percent year-on-year, according to a report by the Good Food Institute and the Plant-Based Foods Association (PBFA).

Sustainability theme

Oatly, founded by brothers Rickard and Björn Öste in 1990, has benefited from surging interest in companies that care about environmental, social and governance issues.

Oatly, which mentions the word "sustainability" more than a 100 times in its regulatory filing, has said that on average, a liter of Oatly product consumed in place of cow's milk results in around 80 percent less greenhouse gas emissions, 79 percent less land usage and 60 percent less energy consumption.

Last year, Oatly raised $200 million in a star-studded investment round led by private-equity firm Blackstone Group and including Winfrey, Natalie Portman, an entertainment company founded by Jay Z and Schultz.

Verlinvest, the investment company of the family behind brewer Anheuser-Busch InBev, remains Oatly's majority owner through a joint venture with Chinese government-owned China Resources, which invested in the company in 2016.

Morgan Stanley, J.P.Morgan and Credit Suisse are among the lead underwriters for the offering.