Liam Lynam, the founder of Oat in the City, has a very clear idea of what he wants his legacy to look like. It’s not fame or fortune or an entry in the history books. The farmer, whose new milk product will appear on the shelves of Aldi this Sunday, wants to create a farming model he can hand down to his children.
Lynam, 47, has been farming full time on the family plot in Ballybroder on the border of Co Offaly and Co Westmeath for more than a decade, having earlier spent several years at Kepak Group. He said he had spent years trying to create a farm-to-fork business model that would allow him to safeguard his family’s place in an industry in which it is becoming more difficult to make a living.
In Oat in the City, Lynam thinks he’s found a “point of difference” that will allow him to do that. The oat drink company markets itself as a natural, healthy alternative to other oat-based products, which Lynam said often contain high levels of sugar and are not as healthy as they claim to be.
In his sales pitches, Lynam said he compares popular oat products to a fizzy drink, even though they are viewed by many as a healthy alternative to standard dairy milk.
“Some of them actually contain more sugar – obviously refined sugar, natural sugars – than you find in a bottle of Fanta Orange,” he said.
Some products, he added, were little more than “sweetened water with a hint of oat”.
Rather than using oat syrup, Oat in the City is made using oat flour and contains protein and fibre in a manner which Lynam claims sets it apart from many of its competitors.
The company offers three products: an original oat drink, a creamier barista option and a dairy-free chocolate milk aimed at kids. Lynam said the business planned to launch a series of new drinks in the coming years, as well as an oat-drink powder, in a bid to stay ahead of competitors and grow the business overseas.
“In retail, if you stand still, you’ll get passed out. That’s just the industry I’m in. So you always have to evolve, but I think if you’re first to market, and you’re leading the market, that makes a difference,” he said.
Oat in the City hopes to open a seed funding round early next year, ideally attracting private equity investors as well as funding from Enterprise Ireland.
Lynam aims to begin exporting the product to Britain next year too and is targeting Europe-wide expansion within three years. But it’s early days yet.
“No one is going to invest in us until we’ve proven our track record and we’ve got some sales behind us,” he said.
For now, Lynam is looking forward to the “huge” possibilities the Aldi partnership offers, as well as seeking to consolidate the company’s position in the SuperValu Food Academy, the business support programme run by the supermarket chain.
While he is focusing on the immediate future, he knows exactly where he wants his business to go in the long term too.
“For me, the question is: how can I secure the future of the farm that I’ve inherited?”