It is hard to imagine supermarket shelves without them these days: non-dairy drinks based on oats, soy, almonds and such. Whether it is for reasons of food intolerance, sustainability or quite simply personal preference, more and more consumers are reaching for plant-based drinks. According to Statista, worldwide demand for vegan milk will have doubled by the end of 2023 (compared to 2017), to reach a global market value of 19.7 billion US dollars. Oat milk, in particular, has become increasingly popular in New Zealand. Most of it has had to be imported up till now. That is precisely where Free Flow and its foundation customer Otis, an oat-milk producer, come into play.
All those who think plant-based milk alternatives and beer have nothing in common will have to think again. The brewhouse that will be erected in the new brewery area of Free Flow, a contract manufacturer based in New Zealand, will be able to make not only beer but also oat milk – a premiere in this country! For the required process technology Free Flow relies on Krones and Steinecker.
One shared goal: plant-based milk alternatives in New Zealand
“In a country that has been way too good at dairy, we’ve made it our mission to lead a plant-based revolution that creates positive change for people and the planet,” to quote Tim Ryan and Chris Wilkie, the founders of the oat-milk company Otis. They established this oat-milk brand in 2018 and in their futile attempts at finding a facility that would support them in their mission, they finally came across Free Flow, a company that at the time just wanted to add a brewing business to their portfolio but then discovered the additional potential to produce plant-based milk alternatives. As a foundation customer of Free Flow, Otis are now working on their first oat milk “Made in New Zealand”.
“From New Zealand’s original oat milk innovators, Otis, to the world-class technological innovations offered, among others, by Krones and Steinecker, we can’t wait to hit go. So plant-based milk and beer brands, bring us your recipes and ideas and let us get to it,” said Scott Day, co-founder of Free Flow.
Using brewing technology to make oat milk
Producers are offered three different options for making oat milk: They can blend a ready-made oat base, they can use oat meal – or whole oat kernels or oat flakes. Free Flow has chosen the latter variant, which provides a number of benefits: The brewing technology used here includes a hydrolysis process, which is instrumental in selectively controlling the milk’s specific characteristics, which means the milk’s taste can also be fine-tuned down to the tiniest detail. So this method allows Free Flow to manufacture each product precisely. Moreover, this variant is the most energy-efficient of the three options mentioned and in the long term involves the lowest production costs.
As Free Flow has already successfully used Krones technology in other systems, the decision to go with Krones and Steinecker for this process-engineering kit, too, which had originally been intended only for making beer, came quickly and easily.
The partnership with Krones is one built on trust and commitment, there is always a solution at Krones. Adam SorensenCo-founder of Free Flow
The current order includes a CombiCube brewhouse from Steinecker, which will be connected to the existing can line being used for filling beer now as well. Additional downstream equipment like a decanter as well as conditioning and mixing tanks enables Free Flow to produce not only beer with the new brewhouse but also oat milk – and in future perhaps even whiskey and other spirits based on cereal grains. This is complemented by a homogeniser from HST, and a Variostore aseptic mixing tank plus a VarioAsept D UHT system from Krones for making the product shelf-stable. The Steinecker Botec F1 process control system enables the production processes to be controlled safely, reliably and reproducibly.
All job sections going hand in hand
The Krones Group combines a wide range of different skills and specialisms under a single roof, a fact that also benefits Free Flow, because the process-engineering expertise of both Krones and Steinecker complement each other perfectly for the oat-milk project in New Zealand: Before production starts, tests on anything to do with dosing in the oat meal or tests on the enzymes, which will subsequently be crucial in giving the finished product a balance of sweetness, mouth-feel, and yield, can be run in the Steinecker Technology Center. Preliminary trials for processes like mixing and making the product shelf-stable, by contrast, are conducted in the Krones Process Technology Center.
The advantage for Free Flow: Although a number of different specialisms are involved, they have just one contact person in the Krones Group, a fact reflected in swift project implementation: The plan is for the first beer to be brewed in the new brewhouse before this year is over, and the first oat-milk to be produced in the spring of 2024, with an output of 50 million litres.