Oatly Stock Price Jumps in Trading Debut

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Shares of Oatly soared 30 percent on Thursday as investors jumped at the chance to take part in rapid changes in the food industry driven by consumer tastes shifting to plant-based products.

The company, which makes an alternative to dairy milk based on oats, priced its initial public offering Wednesday night on the high end of its range, giving the company a value of about $10 billion. Shares were priced at $17 and began trading at $22.12 on the Nasdaq under the ticker “OTLY.”

The offering comes as money is flooding into the food tech space, with investors eager to catch a ride on the next Beyond Meat — the vegan food company valued at about $6.6 billion by public investors. And investors have put a heightened focus on companies like Oatly that say they meet environmental, social and governance standards.

“Long term, it’s an opportunity for us to create a fantastic shareholder base,” Oatly’s chief executive, Toni Petersson, said of the offering. “So E.S.G. was definitely a huge, huge part of it — so we’re excited, we’re really excited, about the outcome here.”

Oatly, based in Malmo, Sweden, was founded in 1994 by Rickard Oste, a professor of food chemistry and nutrition in Sweden, and his brother Bjorn Oste. They developed a way of processing a slurry of oats and water with enzymes to produce natural sweetness and a milk-like taste and consistency. Fans of oatmilk say it tastes better than dairy-free predecessors like soy milk and is better for the environment than almond milk.

The company has drawn the attention of big money and flashy names. The majority shareholder is a partnership between an entity owned by the Chinese government and Verlinvest, a Belgian firm that invests some of the wealth of the families that control the Anheuser-Busch InBev beer empire. Blackstone is an investor, as are Oprah Winfrey, Natalie Portman, Jay-Z’s Roc Nation and Howard Schultz.

Oatly’s sales soared last year to $420 million from $204 million in 2019, though the company reported a loss of $60 million as it invested in new factories, marketing and new products. It’s goal going forward remains growth, not profitability, Mr. Petersson said.

“This is about gaining market share,” he said. “This is about leading a movement forward.”

In 2019, Campbell, which sells oat milk through its Pacific Foods brand, complained about Oatly’s marketing around its use of sugar. But Oatly has no plans to address its sugar content.

“We’re just replicating what nature does before it enters your stomach,” Mr. Petersson said in describing the process of making oatmilk.

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