Danone’s venture arm invests in oat milk maker Minor Figures

Dive Brief:

  • Danone Manifesto Ventures, the investment arm of the French food giant, took a minority stake in Minor Figures, a maker of oat milk and ready-to-drink tea and coffee. The plant-based company also received a minority investment from Green Monday Group, a social venture platform focused on sustainable living. The dollar amounts were not disclosed.
  • Stuart Forsyth, co-founder and CEO of U.K.-based Minor Figures, said Danone shared his company’s vision to create a sustainable future, and cited the venture unit’s B Corp certification. “They are the perfect partner to help us optimise and grow our multi-geo, multi-channel business,” he said in a statement.
  • While Danone has a deep portfolio of traditional dairy offerings like such as Oikos, Activia and Two Good, it has been accelerating its presence in plant-based products, highlighted by its $12.5 billion purchase of WhiteWave in 2017. 

Dive Insight:

Danone Manifesto Ventures so far has spent more than $300 million since it was founded in 2016, with several investments in the plant-based sector. These include plant-based products manufacturer Laird Superfood; Harmless Harvest, a producer of organic coconut-based products; and Forager Projecta family-owned and operated organic plant-based creamery. The venture unit has been among the most active in the CPG space, with more than 20 investments to date.

While not an outright acquisition or even a majority investment, the minority stake Danone is making in Minor Figures further underscores the importance plant-based products have for the food and beverage giant. It also jives with Danone’s environmental and sustainability efforts, a major priority for the company. 

“We believe Minor Figures is a unique brand that strongly resonates with consumers in the fast-growing plant-based space,” Clemence Delcourt, chief investment officer of Danone Manifesto Ventures, said in a statement. “Minor Figures is fully aligned with our goal to partner with mission-driven food and beverage companies that are creating a healthy and sustainable future.”

Danone is no stranger to oat milk, having both the Silk and So Delicious brands in its portfolio. Last year, it announced it would dole out nearly $50 million in 2022 to convert a dairy plant in southern France into a production site for primarily oat-based drinks under its Alpro brand.

But Minor Figures will undoubtedly enable it to get a better understanding of the category through its work with the fast-growing, scrappy upstart. The Vegconomist noted in March that the company was predicting 100% year-over-year growth for the next three years.

Oat milk has been among the fastest-growing segments of the plant-based milk space. According to SPINS statistics, it is the second-largest subcategory, growing more than 44 times in the past three years. Oat milk now makes up 17% of category sales, up from only 0.5% in 2018, the data showed. The expansion should only continue, with the global market expected to expand at a compound annual growth rate of 14.2% from 2020 to 2028, data from Grand View Research showed.

Danone, with its broad U.S. presence, will help Minor Figures further expand its retail footprint and better navigate the supply chain headaches impacting businesses of all sizes. Forsyth told Food Navigator that his brand’s presence in the U.S. is largely confined to smaller, super-premium independent stores as well as the natural and specialty channel through outlets like Whole Foods. It’s now aiming to “crack the bigger chains,” he said.

As oat milk giant Oatly has found, growth can come with a price. Oatly has struggled to meet demand, lowered its sales forecast and watched its shares lose roughly 75% of its value since its IPO last year. The expertise from Danone’s venture arm could allow Minor Figures to avoid some of these growing pains while navigating competition from other brands like Planet Oat and Chobani should it ever reach a large-enough scale.

If Minor Figures continues its rapid growth, it could become an acquisition target for Danone like a pair of other venture investments: premium snack food maker Michel et Augustin in France and Harmless Harvest in the U.S. In March, Danone vowed to restore growth to the company and admitted it has underperformed in categories and against its peers. Investments by Danone Manifesto Ventures could one day play a major role in its efforts to boost growth.