Oatly’s Global CCO Talks Trust, Transparency and Fearless Creative

From charging head-on into a legal battle with the “evil Swedish Milk Lobby” to putting their creative department front and center, Oatly refuses to play by any rules but its own. With brand-love growing around the globe and recent backing from icons like Oprah, Jay-Z and Natalie Portman, what is the secret to their fearless approach to driving business growth? John Schoolcraft, Oatly’s Global Chief Creative Officer shares the power that comes from building full trust from your CEO, believing in a greater purpose and bringing their rebellious challenger brand tone to life across every touchpoint to disrupt not only their category but the food industry at large.

What first attracted you to Oatly?

At first, I wasn’t attracted at all. Toni and I have been friends for like 25 years and when he originally called me and told me that he got the job as CEO of an oat milk company and asked if we could do something, my initial reaction was, “Really? I am really happy for you Toni but oatmilk sounds disgusting. I wish you well.”

It sounded like the most difficult product ever to work with. Nobody knew what it was (unless of course you were lactose intolerant or vegan), the packaging was the worst I had ever seen anywhere, and it didn’t sound like something I would ever want to try. But Toni is very persuasive, and as we started to work with it, it became very clear that Oatly was less about a specific product and more about helping people make small changes in their lives that would prove to be both nutritionally good for them and for the planet. 

How did you get to where you are today? Any noteworthy aha-moments along the way?

The real answer? Back in 2012, when our CEO Toni Petersson and I started at Oatly, he let me kill the marketing department entirely and replace it by putting a creative department at the center of the company. We don’t have a marketing department at all. For real. We have a creative department that we call the Oatly Department of Mind Control. We brief ourselves, do the work, and then approve it when we think it is good enough. No one in the company except Toni can stop anything we do, and we have a deal with Toni that as long as what we do is world class, he can’t stop anything either, even if he doesn’t like it.

How is Oatly challenging the industry?

Historically the food industry hasn’t been known for its transparency, so one of the first things we did back in 2013 was not only to list all of our product ingredients on our website, but also where the ingredients came from in order to make the entire production chain as transparent as possible.

Last year, in order to provide consumers with transparency regarding the climate impact of the products they consume, we added a carbon footprint label to all of our products in Europe and challenged the food industry to follow with a campaign entitled: Hey food industry show us your numbers! This resulted in multiple retailers moving toward standardizing carbon footprint labelling, the German Parliament agreeing to consider mandating this into a law and earlier this summer food giant Unilever committing to begin labelling 70,000 of their food products.

Having said this, we are actually less into changing the industry than we are into finding ways to help people make small changes in their lives… We are not a food company but a sustainability company, fighting for future generations’ right to have a planet to live on. That’s a very powerful belief system. “

@JeremySchumann With an unconventional background working in addiction recovery in South America, Jeremy Schumann is a brand marketer and strategist who has led marketing campaigns for top global brands ranging from Make-A-Wish, Nike and Uber Eats to Airbnb, Facebook and Google.