Oat benefits easy to swallow

There is no magic recipe to successfully market a product, says George Barreras.

“What works for your neighbour doesn’t work for you most of the times.… You have to persevere. You have to be ready for failure. But there’s no formula. Otherwise, all companies would succeed, or all companies would fail if there was a formula for everything.”

As creator of OatDeal The Healthy Choice, Barreras’s self-prescribed method for success is to keep his mind open to all possibilities and comments.

“Sometimes you have to be open to feedback and let people come and tell you, ‘I think you’re doing this wrong,’ ” he said.

“But don’t ask advice from your friends and family. They are great to get support and even money, but friends and family sometimes don’t want to hurt your feelings. They just say what you’re doing is good.”

Originally from Colombia, Barreras grew up consuming hot oatmeal drinks, which are popular in Hispanic cultures in South America. He and his family immigrated to Saskatoon in 2006.

George Barreras says marketing his oat-based smoothie to customers not familiar with oat drinks was a difficult and expensive job. He advises food developers to first target large markets where consumers may be familiar with the product. | William Dekay photo

Barreras assumed that as one of the world’s largest oat producers, Canadians would be familiar with drinking oats as well as eating them in their morning porridge and breakfast cereals.

“To my surprise, people in Canada did not know that oats could be drank,” he said.

“Canadians know oats, they know the benefits of oats, but they don’t drink them…. What’s the difference between drinking them or eating them? That’s nothing. Well it is. It is.”

In 2013, with a grant from the Sask-atchewan Agri-Value Initiative for product development and marketing, Barreras worked with the Sask-atchewan Food Industry Development Centre for six months to refine his formulation.

A single serving requires three tablespoons of OatDeal and six ounces of boiling water. When shaken or blended for 30 seconds, the foamy mix creates a hot smoothie. A cold smoothie can also be made.

Current flavours include cinnamon, chocolate and vanilla, and an oat-based creamer called Oatffee can be added to coffee.

OatDeal continues to be manufactured at the food centre’s Saskatoon plant and has been selling through Federated Co-op and other stores in Western Canada.

A successful appearance on CBC’s Dragons’ Den in 2015 has helped garner attention for the company, which Barreras said has opened many food industry doors.

“We were chosen by the Food in Canada as one of the top 10 companies in Canada to watch in 2015,” he said.

However, Barreras quickly learned a valuable, potentially costly lesson, which was staring right at him.

“The lesson to learn is you should first start where you have a market,” he said.

Barreras said he was trying to promote and educate his Canadian market that oats could be consumed as a liquid but was not focusing on other lucrative markets that were already acquainted with drinking oats.

“If a society is not familiar with something, then creating awareness costs a lot of money. If people are not used to drinking oats, creating awareness is expensive,” he said.

“That’s when I started seeing a better market for me is the (55 million) Hispanic market in the United States. The market is huge, it’s massive. That’s a point in our company when we took a decision and said, ‘shall we keep focusing on it in Canada only or shall we go where people know and are familiar with the product?’ ”

He said sales in Texas and California are now five to 10 times what they are in Canada, and the company has plans to eventually expand into South America.

Barreras has also added probiotics to the oatmeal drink to enhance protein and carbohydrate digestion.

“You not only get the benefits of the oats but you’re also getting that digestive health,” he said.

However, Barreras has continued to focus on expanding in Canada and thinks Oat-Boost is the answer.

The newest product is made to enhance fruit smoothies combining gluten free whole oats, pea protein and Bc30 probiotics.

The learning curve has been fast and steep, but Barreras continues striving to further understand his markets and consumers’ buying habits.

“As you move in business, you learn that there are two ways that people can sell a product. One way is if people really know it and are willing to go out and buy it. The other thing is if the product solves a problem.”

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