Oatly Shows It Doesn’t Cry Over Its Spilt Milk

Thom Weidlich 05.04.23


Here’s a new one on us. Oatly, the irreverent Swedish company that makes oat-based alternatives to dairy products, launched a website that gathers in one place, for all to see, some of its crises over the years and its responses thereto. Talk about transparency. It’s an interesting idea, but probably not everyone’s cup of oat milk.

Oatly makes oat-based versions of items such as, yes, milk, but also ice cream, yogurt and mayonnaise. It launched the provocatively named F*ck Oatly site in October, but didn’t promote it, preferring people find it on their own, Brendan Lewis, the company’s head of global communications and public affairs, told PRWeek. The site’s tagline is “A time machine of all things bad about an oat drink company.”

In addition to the firm’s own cheeky look-backs at the crises, the site includes strings of contemporaneous angry tweets from the public. “We’ve said everything we need to say about [these controversies], so why not put it all in one place so that people can just see it for themselves?” Lewis told the Axios Communicators newsletter. “Let’s just be completely transparent so that we can move on and drive our business.”

‘Capitalist Pig’

One example is the trademark lawsuit it filed against a smaller, English competitor, Glebe Farms, makers of PureOaty. The backlash and boycott calls against Oatly were intense. “When a big company sues a small company, the big company typically looks like a bully, or as one Twitter user put it, ‘a greedy capitalist pig,’” Oatly writes on the site. It lost the case in 2021.

Other subjects include the “Help Dad” ad campaign that got it accused of ageism; the 2018 uproar when customers learned it sold its “oat waste” to pig farmers (not very vegan); and the outrage that ensued in 2020 when finance biggie Blackstone, which also invests in firms that contribute to the climate crisis, took a stake in the company.


So what to make of this? The approach is admittedly not for everyone. It seems appropriate, or not inappropriate, for a hip outfit like Oatly that seeks to be a disruptor — namely of the dairy-milk business. More staid organizations would balk at the idea, but it does underscore that it’s not a sin for companies to poke fun at themselves once in a while.

‘Valuable Lesson’

The Oatly site does attempt to conjure lessons learned from the negative events. For example, it calls the oat-waste episode a “valuable lesson” and says it has been working on developing food products from the waste.

On the other hand, the site could raise expectations that Oatly has the goods to respond appropriately to crises. It doesn’t deny there will be more. “New scandal coming soon,” the site promises.

Photo Credit: Oatly via Facebook

Sign up for our free weekly newsletter on crisis communications. Each week we highlight a crisis story in the news or a survey or study with an eye toward the type of best practices and strategies you can put to work each day. Click here to subscribe.