Oatly selects top candidate for next CEO, WSJ reports

Dive Brief:

  • Jean-Christophe Flatin, a Mars executive who is joining Oatly on June 1 as global president, is the top candidate to replace CEO Toni Petersson, according to The Wall Street Journal. Sources told the paper that a change is not imminent.
  • Oatly’s board began efforts last summer to find a successor with operational experience so that Petersson could focus on business development, sources told the Journal. The pace of the search picked up after Oatly’s stock price dropped late last year. Oatly Chairman Eric Melloul told the publication in a statement, “we are not considering a transition at this point.” Oatly did not respond to Food Dive’s request for comment by press time.
  • Petersson, who has led the oat milk giant over the past decade, has overseen its rise into a plant-based powerhouse as well as its initial public offering last May. A shift from CEO to more of a strategy and business development position could provide the next natural step for the executive.

Dive Insight:

The choice of Flatin as Oatly’s likely next CEO is not surprising. Stability at the top is key for Oatly. Right now, the company is trying to navigate the need to meet demand for its range of oat-based milks, yogurts and frozen desserts as it shakes off supply chain and production challenges. It is also attempting to get ahead of financial losses. The company’s shares have declined by more than 80% since its public debut.  

By choosing Flatin as the likely successor to Petersson, Oatly is picking a seasoned CPG veteran with a demonstrated track record of guiding and growing global organizations. In a press release on Flatin’s hire, the company pointed to his 30-plus years of leadership experience at Mars in a wide range of businesses. This includes leading its Royal Canin cat and dog food business, overseeing several brands with international distribution as president of Mars’ Global Chocolate division, and working with cutting-edge ideas as president of Innovation, Science, Technology and Mars Edge. 

It’s notable that Oatly appears to be lining up a successor to Petersson. An Oatly spokesperson told the Journal that Petersson initiated the discussion about hiring a new executive team and led the search for its next president and COO as part of the company’s succession planning. Daniel Ordonez, a veteran of Danone and Unilever, is also set to start as COO in June. 

As CEO, Petersson has often been the public face of Oatly, even appearing in quirky, high-profile commercials. Since joining the company in 2012, when sales totaled less than $30 million, Petersson has grown Oatly into a global brand with both a retail and restaurant footprint. Revenue rose nearly 53% to top $643 million in 2021, according to the company’s year-end 2021 earnings report, and Oatly expects to reach at least $880 million in sales this year.

With Flatin potentially taking over as CEO, Petersson would be able to focus on longer-term strategy and business development. Here, there are parallels to another leader in the plant-based space: Impossible Foods’ Pat Brown. In March, the plant-based meat company announced its founder Brown — who also led his company for a decade and has been its public face — would step down and become chief visionary officer.