Oatly hires industry veterans to build executive team

Dive Brief:

  • Oatly is appointing two CPG industry veterans to its leadership team. The oat beverage company said Jean-Christophe Flatin will take over as its global president and Daniel Ordonez as COO. Peter Bergh, Oatly’s current COO, has been named chief strategy officer. The changes start June 1.
  • Flatin joins Oatly with more than 30 years of experience at Mars, which included managing brands in areas such as pet food and chocolate. Ordonez joins Oatly with almost 30 years of experience in consumer packaged goods, primarily at Danone and Unilever.
  • The appointment of CPG veterans to its executive ranks comes as the oat milk maker has struggled to meet demand, lowered its sales forecast and watched its shares lose roughly 75% of its value since its IPO last May. 

Dive Insight:

Oatly is at a critical juncture in its growth. Not only is the company working to rapidly expand as demand increases, but it’s at a point in which it needs leaders with business experience at the helm to both guide its growth and prevent future missteps.

In the press release announcing the hirings, Oatly CEO Toni Petersson touted the experience that Flatin and Ordonez bring to the table.

“Their proven track records of driving growth and profitability at multinational consumer packaged goods companies will be valuable to Oatly as we continue to scale production to meet the growing demand for our products,” Petersson said. 

The need for more operational expertise at the top has been clear as the oat milk pioneer has seen growth, but missed earnings targets. In the first nine months of 2021, the company posted revenues of $457.3 million, a 55.4% increase from the prior year. But the company had projected total 2021 revenues of $690 million in August, and saw its stock slowly decline in the months since as investors saw a likely big miss.

To be fair, all of the blame doesn’t belong with Oatly’s leadership. Problems with the company’s oat supply resulting from a poor growing season have stretched the company’s capacity, though leaders have said they have enough to meet demand for the short term. The company’s plans to build new facilities have also slowed somewhat due to pandemic and supply chain-related issues. New construction at its Ogden, Utah, facility had many delays.

But, according to The Wall Street Journal, a chaotic lack of leadership added to those delays. Equipment and wastewater issues were not always dealt with. Project plans and scope were changed often, and responsibilty for managing the projects switched to different employees.

With Flatin and Ordonez joining Oatly’s leadership, they bring a greater degree of knowhow to a company with global ambitions. Both have had long careers at global food companies, providing leadership and fostering innovation, while being responsible for high-growth areas.

Despite its recent setbacks, Oatly is still growing and is in a popular segment. Since 2020, oat milk has been the second top-selling plant-based milk in the United States. SPINS statistics say it held a 17% marketshare in the plant-based milk segment last year, and it’s grown more than 44-fold since 2018. The enthusiasm for Oatly that was crystallized in last year’s initial public offering valuing the company at $10 billion still exists, but it’s been muted by disappointing quarters.

Christopher Doering contributed to this report