Business

Entrepreneur Uses Montana-Grown Oats For Plant-Based Milk Business


David Erickson

Missoulian, Mont.

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) As David Erickson reports, “[Teresa] Morales owns and operates Cool Earth Creamery in Missoula. She uses Montana and Canada-grown organic, gluten-free oats to produce her own special recipe for oat milk in reusable glass bottles.”

Missoula

Teresa Morales tripped over her garbage container one day, spilling out dozens of single-use containers for the plant-based milk she drinks due to her severe dairy allergy.

She realized right then that there had to be a better way.

“I was like ‘wow, what could I do to improve this?,” Morales recalled. “And I started researching it.”

Pretty soon, she was purchasing a boiler and getting a license to operate it, and now Morales owns and operates Cool Earth Creamery in Missoula. She uses Montana and Canada-grown organic, gluten-free oats to produce her own special recipe for oat milk in reusable glass bottles.

Inside a shop in the North Reserve Industrial Park, Morales has installed the boiler and all kinds of high-tech equipment to create the blend. She delivers to stores like the Orange Street Food Farm and the Good Food Store and to restaurants like Green Source Missoula and Basal.

It was the environmental cost of the oat milk from large corporations that bugged her.

“Sort of what’s available to plant-based consumers is either produced on the West or East coast,” she explained. “It’s likely produced with grain or beans that are grown outside of the states. It’s packaged in single-use containers. It ships hundreds of thousands of miles here to Montana. We drink the product and then we deal with the waste for their garbage right here in our waste stream.”

There weren’t any large commercial plant-based milk manufacturers in Montana, she realized. She was motivated to help Montana farmers as well as cut down on the waste stream.

“If I could create a product locally, and use locally-sourced grains and reusable containers, I could create a win-win situation,” she remembered thinking. “And the money that I save on not using single-use packaging and not shipping hundreds of thousands of miles I could use to pay growers the true cost of the grain and I could buy organic and pay my workers a livable wage.”

At True Foods Missoula, Orange Street Food Farm and the Good Food Store, customers can get a $2 refund if they return the glass quart-sized bottle back to the retailer, or they can get a discount on their next purchase of the brand. Morales also donates the extra oat milk every week to the Missoula Food Bank. She produces about 100 gallons a week.

Morales once worked for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers building schools, roads, clinics and wells in a remote part of Afghanistan. Before she deployed, she had to take a health screening, and that’s when she realized she had a severe dairy allergy.

She hopes that her business will give another option to people with the same affliction, but she also hopes that regular milk drinkers might also prefer the flavor of her recipe in their morning coffee or on their cereal. Using whole grains and a complex enzyme treatment from start to finish, Morales says her product has a better and more interesting flavor than the large national brands.

“Because we’re starting with that whole grain, we’re getting a rich, complex flavor that I think you don’t get with other plant milks,” she said.

Writing about the rise in popularity of plant-based milks for the National Institute of Health’s National Center for Biotechnology Information, researchers Swati Sethi, S.K. Tyagi and Rahul Anurag said oat milk should be fortified with calcium if it is to be considered a dietary alternative for cow’s milk.

However, they said oat milk sales have increased steadily across the globe in recent years.

“Oat milk is the recent emergent in the market owing to its potential therapeutic benefits,” they wrote.

“Oats have received extensive interest due to the presence of dietary fibers, phytochemicals and high nutritive value.”

For Morales, the business model has been successful so far, and she’s steadily ramping up.
“There’s a lot of win-win components to this operation,” she said. “Like any business, you start off with an idea and it’s a lot more complicated. But that basic ethos has driven us forward. And I think we’re staying true to that as we’re developing.”
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