Jan 24, 2022
By Julie Wolf
Upright: Oat Milk that Nourishes Both People and the Planet

Milk should be a delicious and protein-rich drink, but many alternatives to cow’s milk lack its nutrient depth. Upright has created the world’s first protein-rich, allergen-free, vegan oat milk option with double (or more!) the protein of other oat milks. Upright then improves on cow’s milk to include ingredients that promote gut, heart, and bone health. In addition, each cup of Upright Oats saves 39 gallons of water compared with cow’s milk, making it the healthiest and most sustainable option.

Watch Upright present at IndieBio NY Class 3 Demo Day

We spoke to CEO Betty Tang about oats, building a startup, and how to provide the everyday consumer with healthy, sustainable options.

What is the mission of Upright?

Upright’s mission is to make delicious food that’s better for people and our planet.

I think the challenge inherent in that mission is that consumers are used to a certain way of eating and drinking, and a certain lifestyle. I think it’s challenging to these preconceived notions that, you know, dairy milk, for example, is the gold standard, or that alternative, plant-based products are not as nutritious.

How does Upright challenge the consumer’s idea of nutritious milk?

I think consumers have been conditioned by the dairy milk industry to think that dairy milk is the gold standard, in terms of the amount of protein it has, the amount of calcium, or vitamins in it. At Upright, we’re trying to challenge this assumption by creating a product that matches the nutritional profile of dairy milk. 

Each cup of Upright oat milk has eight grams of protein–but coming from oats rather than from cows–and it has the same amount of vitamins and minerals in terms of the calcium content, vitamins A, B, 12, and D as well, so that consumers can feel great and not feel like they’re making a nutritional trade off when they’re choosing Upright oat milk over dairy milk.

What is the planetary benefit of instant oat milk?

Oat milk is already very sustainable, just inherently, because it’s using oats over other crops that might require more resources. But instant oat milk is even more resource efficient, because instead of shipping a liquid product around the world–which requires a ton of weight and a lot of bulk, meaning it requires more energy to transport and emits a lot more carbon in that process–our instant oat milk instead is a powdered product– meaning that it’s much lighter in weight and much smaller in size–so that it can be shipped directly to consumers doorsteps with just a fraction of that carbon impact. 

Upright’s high protein, allergen-free, instant oat milk will contribute to solving the issue of animal agriculture, which has contributed to climate change, by giving consumers a choice where they don’t feel like they’re being forced to make trade offs. It’s a product that’s just as nutritious, that tastes great, and is super convenient, but without any of the unwanted health or environmental impacts.

What about your technology excites you?

Oats kept me really excited, which is a funny thing to say, but I think that oats are such an incredible crop. One of the big reasons is because they’re so hardy and naturally pest resistant, and so it doesn’t they don’t require as much fertilizer and pesticides and insecticides and herbicides as other crops do. This means that there’s less of these synthetic chemicals that can potentially leach off into neighboring community water supplies and impact human health. 

Another big reason is because they’re so resource efficient, they can grow in suboptimal conditions. They don’t require active irrigation; they are a rain fed crop, and they are good at growing over the winter as well. So they can grow during times of the year when other crops can’t necessarily be grown. 

And beyond that, they’re also really great for soil health. They’re really great at maintaining the nutrients in the soil and maintaining the structure of the soil so that nutrients don’t leak out of that soil.

What are your thoughts on competition in the alternative milk space?

I think the first question that investors or other people ask me about is, what about all the other competitors out there? There’s so many other oatmilk vendors, so many other alternatives in general. 

I’m actually very excited by all the competitors in that space. I think that it’s very clear that we have to make a change in terms of our diets. And the more competitors out there, that means there’s going to be more innovation and there will be more education for consumers and more choices. And I think that a rising tide lifts all ships. So it makes me really excited actually, to have all these other companies coming into the alternative milk space.

What motivates you day-to-day?

Building your own company and building a product that you personally want to see in the world is a super rewarding thing. I find a really strong sense of purpose and mission in what I do. 

The company stems from my passion for sustainability and my belief that business can be used as a force for good. So even when it does get challenging, thinking about the potential impact that I can create on the world is a really rewarding and motivating source for me to turn to and, and a pool of energy to draw on. 

So I think what keeps me motivated to continue the journey is just knowing that the potential impact that can create is so much bigger than just creating one single product, but to be able to introduce the world to a healthier, more sustainable way of life. That that can scale to such a large extent that it’s really exciting and motivating for me to keep moving.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

Hi, I’m Betty. I’m the founder of Upright. We make plant-based foods that are better for people and our planet, starting with a high-protein instant oat milk.

I was born in China, and I moved to Canada at the age of two. I grew up there in Vancouver, and I stayed there for my undergrad. I studied accounting and sustainability at the University of British Columbia. 

I never thought that I was gonna end up, you know, building a biotech company. But what happened after my undergrad was I ended up in management consulting, so I worked there for a bunch of giant fortune 500 companies in all sorts of different industries. And I found the most passion in serving these leaders in consumer goods and agriculture and in manufacturing.

What will the world look like when Upright succeeds?

It will not only be a lot more environmentally sustainable, using a lot less resources, emitting a lot less carbon, but also I think consumers will be a lot healthier as well, by choosing a product that doesn’t contain lactose and other unwanted allergens. I mean, two thirds of people are lactose intolerant, which is a huge percentage of the population! I think that people will be a lot healthier in terms of their gut and digestive health. 

And beyond that, I think that people can find a lot more convenience and ease in their lives by using an instant product where they don’t have to schlep themselves to the grocery store and keep it in their fridges and have it go bad. It’s really exciting that consumers can have something that is readily available in their pantries whenever they want to use it and to be able to take it wherever they want to go–whether they’re at home or if they’re, you know, heading on a plane or on a bus, it’s super portable. And so I think it’s a really great opportunity perhaps for a healthier, more sustainable and more convenient world.