Spotting a gap & scaling: Oatsu’s Lauren O’Donnell

31 December 2023

The journey from home kitchen to retail listings is one that most food founders want to make. In a recent Food Founders Interview, we learned about the remarkable success of Oatsu with founder Lauren O’Donnell.

Lauren left her corporate job to take the plunge and make her idea for ready-prepared, plant-based overnight oats a reality. Overnight oats have soared in popularity globally in recent years, and Lauren has hit the sweet spot. The brand has smashed its funding target on Seedrs and has just launched in Holland & Barrett stores across the UK.

From home kitchen to Holland & Barrett

Oatsu Plant-Based Overnight Oats - Food Founders Interview with Lauren O'DonnellLauren left her job in the City in 2020 to turn the breakfast she prepared every day for herself into a business. Since launching Oatsu, Lauren has served almost 3,000 customers with more than 20,00 portions of her delicious plant-based oats. She’s managed to go from a home kitchen to Oatsu’s first nationwide listing with 645 in Holland & Barrett stores and achieved a successful overfunded crowdfunding with Seedrs in just a couple of years. Lauren was named one of Management Today’s 35 Women Under 35 in 2022.

Spotting a gap in the market

In the US, the market of overnight oats – the 4th most Googled recipe globally – has been growing exponentially in recent years with brands like Brekki, Mush and Oats Overnight stocked in major retailers, including the likes of Walmart and Costco, generating tens of millions in revenue. Lauren launched Oatsu in 2020 to replicate their success in the UK and become the first dedicated overnight oat brand on shelves here.

Before launching her successful plant-based breakfast business, Lauren spent four and a half years working in the city, managing the digital and social presences of HSBC and Fidelity International in the UK and Hong Kong. Lauren used to prepare her overnight oats for breakfast every morning. When she didn’t have time to prepare them the night before, she struggled to find an affordable, healthy alternative on supermarket shelves.
She found overnight oats recipes on Instagram and loved that they provided an easy, healthy breakfast. Lauren eventually left her corporate job to found Oatsu, setting up her own kitchen to create and perfect her recipes. She started initially by selling her breakfasts online through Instagram and Shopify before launching an online store in April 2020.

The idea behind Oatsu

Oats are known as one of the best sources of plant-based protein – packed with fibre to help you stay fuller for longer. Overnight oats offer a convenient way to enjoy this nutritious breakfast. Rather than being cooked in the morning, oats are simply soaked overnight in milk or water, a process that helps retain more healthy nutrients. However, they require time and preparation.

Oatsu, inspired by the translation of ‘oats’ in Japanese (ōtsu), was launched to bring the health benefits of overnight oats into the mainstream in a convenient, healthy ‘grab and go’ breakfast format. The products are made using only plant-based, quality ingredients – offering a perfect on-the-go breakfast for today’s health-conscious, busy professionals. Pegged as a convenient breakfast, they are delivered in recyclable packaging, and all products are 100% vegan, dairy-free and refined-sugar-free.

The products are made by soaking oats in oat milk to give them their signature thick, creamy consistency – a process that makes them easier to digest and helps retain their nutrients (which can be lost with heating). Made by hand, they contain only natural ingredients with fruit and seeds incorporated to create four delicious: mango passionfruit, blueberry, chocolate peanut (made in collaboration with ManiLife) and the number one best-seller, banana biscuit, a creamy banana and caramelised biscuit spread infused overnight oats. The recipes are a result of a lot of trial and error and tested by Lauren herself in the initial stages of production in her very own kitchen!

Finding the right manufacturer

Since launching, Oatsu has teamed up with a manufacturer – a step Lauren admits was more challenging than she initially anticipated. She suggests exploring industry directories and tapping into communities like Bread and Jam and experts like Froghop. Lauren’s connection to her manufacturer came through another food entrepreneur, and because they produce weekly, starting with a smaller manufacturer made sense because they could accommodate smaller production runs. However, as Lauren emphasises, the key when starting on a smaller scale is choosing a manufacturer with the flexibility to scale up with your business.

Scaling up

Since its launch, Oatsu has delivered 23,000+ breakfasts to over 3,000 UK-wide customers. They already supply coffee shops, gyms and offices and are in talks with leading wholesale distributors to expand their out-of-home distribution, delivering directly to homes and offices.

The brand has quickly become rapid grocer Jiffy’s top-selling breakfast ahead of Kellogg’s and Weetabix. They have secured launch into 645 Holland & Barrett stores since mid-October 2023 and are 1 of 8 brands chosen to be part of Co-op’s Apiary scheme for mission-driven food & drink brands. Oatsu’s key focus now, Lauren says, is to secure further listings with the UK’s largest convenience and supermarket retailers and with distributors that supply offices, schools, universities and gyms nationwide.

To hear more from Lauren about how she’s done it, check out the podcast.