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Oatly Hires Chief Customer Officer for U.S.

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Beverage industry veteran Christopher Link is bringing his experience to oat milk giant Oatly in a newly created role. The executive took on the role of chief customer officer last month.

Prior to his appointment, Link served as a board member of East Coast Kombucha Company and was an advisory partner at Ford’s Garage. Since April 2021, he has been executive vice president and head of retail and operations at BlueTriton Brands, and prior to that, he spent more than two decades at Nestle Waters, where he held numerous positions, including executive vice president of customer development and sales operations, vice president of retail and others.

“I have had the privilege of working in the food and beverage industry, which has had a significant impact on consumer health for over 25 years. Now I am excited to make a similar impact with the highest quality plant-based milks” Link said in an exclusive statement to Food Dive.

The Chief Customer Officer at Oatly is a newly created position in the US team. Link will be responsible for overseeing and partnering with U.S. retail customers, and driving growth in the plant-based dairy alternatives category.

“My first goal will be to work closely with all of our internal functional teams at Oatly to build highly transparent and collaborative relationships so we can do our best work together to advance the company’s mission,” Link said, explaining his focus in his new role.

“Externally, our key focus is strategic alignment with our retail customers and a shared vision of delivering shared value in the form of the best plant-based dairy alternatives.”

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Meeting the moment

Over the past year, Oatly has been taking steps to reduce costs. The oat milk maker earlier this year cut its SKUs in Asia by 70% and also halted plans to open factories in the Americas and Europe, the Middle East and Africa, in a bid to tame a drop in net profits.

During its latest earnings report, the business decisions seemed to be paying off. Its Americas segment grew 2% year over year in the latest quarter, and the company controls more than 25% of the refrigerated oat milk category in the market, according to its Presentation of results for Q4 2023.

Link, who is now in charge of the company’s retail strategy, said Oatly needs to adapt to the needs of its consumers.

“The 70-year decline in U.S. dairy consumption is unlikely to reverse anytime soon. As consumer purchasing power increases, particularly among Gen Z and Millennials, plant-based milk preferences, driven by health and environmental concerns, will continue to become more common,” Link said.

We are in the midst of a generational shift away from dairy that needs to be carefully understood and managed to capture the greatest value. As the original and largest global manufacturer of oat-based, dairy-free alternatives, Oatly is uniquely positioned to drive value through our core refrigerated oat milks, but also to open up further opportunities with the large room-temperature segment and drive real, incremental value through exciting innovation.”

In 2021, U.S. milk consumption reached an all-time low of 16 gallons per person, down from 29 gallons in 1975.

The decline in popularity of the dairy industry is particularly visible among Generation Z consumers, who purchased 20% less milk in 2022 than the national average.

Dairy companies responded by calling on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to ban companies from labeling products as “milk” if it doesn’t come from a nursing animal. The FDA has ruled that plant-based milk producers can still use the word, but they must explain its nutritional differences from cow’s milk.

Since the advent of plant milk, Oatly faced challenges with your supply chain.

In 2021 Oat cultivation in Canada and the USA experienced severe droughts, and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine deepened the shortage in 2022. This year the company warned its consumers about price increases.

Then in February, the plant-based milk producer began raising prices to compensate for higher raw material costs worldwide, one way it is cutting costs.