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From dairy to plant-based: Hälsa program to convert organic US dairy farms to oat fields

Hälsa Foods, a manufacturer of oat milk and dairy-free yogurts, is encouraging organic dairy farmers to go plant-based. The US-based company with Scandinavian roots has created a set of guidelines and practices to spur organic oat production in the US, which it calls “100 percent clean.” The eco-friendly farming and processing method results in a “more nutritious and higher quality oat crop, made without a single artificial ingredient,” according to the company. The move to encourage “clean” oat farming, comes as plant-based dairy alternatives are thriving, in particular, those using oats.

“Oats have many great health benefits. However, some oat milks on the market are highly processed and nutritionally poor. We wanted to change that and created a completely new way to make plant-based milks and yogurts,” Scandinavian-born couple Helena Lumme and Mika Manninen, Co-Founders of Hälsa explain.

Oat milk is seeing a lot of launch activity and innovation mainly due to its low environmental impact and more neutral taste profile, according to Natalie Drake, Category Manager at Synergy Flavours. Accordingly, companies are stepping up to increase production and NPD for clean label oats.

The manufacturing process, which took four years for the couple to perfect, is said to keep all the nutrients of the whole grain oats intact. The company further notes that nothing is removed and nothing artificial is added. The processing retains natural oat fibers without the need for adding ingredients, like food gums or carrageenan.

“Oats are one of the most environmentally friendly ingredients for making plant-based milks and other products,” Hälsa’s Co-Founders explain. “We are currently importing our organic oats from Scandinavia because we cannot find the quality that meets our standard in the US. At the same time, US dairy farms are struggling due to slumping milk sales. So we thought, why not come up with a solution that benefits both us and our planet?”

Converting from dairy
Hälsa has assembled a coalition of Scandinavian organic farmers, researchers and environmental experts to support the conversion process. Hälsa will put together a guide book and a video that will serve as a blueprint for other dairy farms on how to start growing premium oats.

The first US farm to start the work with the method is located in upstate New York in the town of Hoosick. “Our goal is to build a biodiverse and biodynamic ecosystem that has the ability to regenerate its resources. We hope this will have a positive impact and also inspire our fellow farmers who are facing many challenges today,” say Eric and Jamie Ziehm, Owners of the High Meadows of Hoosick farm, along with Sam Cottrell.

Oat milks NPD rising fast
Recognizing their potential, industry is stepping in to aid the production of non-dairy oat products. Last year, Novozymes launched an enzyme toolbox to help dairies and beverage producers expand their portfolios and create new types of oat drinks to meet consumer demand.

Last month, the Raisio Group completed the update of its Nokia, Finland, oat mill following an €8 million (US$8.8 million) investment. The capacity and ability to produce gluten-free oats and oat fiber concentrates has been significantly increased to answer the growing demand for raw, high-quality oat materials that are suitable for numerous applications from bakery to beverages.

In 2019, the US-based and organic company OATH launched with an organic oat milk with plant protein, an RTD beverage with a focus on nutrition. Like Hälsa, OATH Milks with Plant Protein bears a clean label claim with no artificial flavors, hidden sugars, gums, fillers or stabilizers.

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