The days of oats being relegated to the cereal and baking aisle at your local supermarket are coming to an end.

Thanks to the efforts of food innovators like Francis and Erik Lo, oats can now be found in the dairy section, including in products like Yoats, Canada’s first oat-based yogurt alternative, which the brothers launched in 2020.

Francis Lo notes that his family has a long history of food innovation tracing back to his grandfather in Hong Kong. After the brothers emigrated to Canada in the late 1980s, they eventually landed at the University of Guelph where Francis studied agribusiness and Erik, food science. At Guelph, their urge to innovate was nurtured and fuelled by Project SOY, a contest sponsored by First Line Seeds, to encourage innovation and product development utilizing soybeans.

Although their tofu cream spread failed to live up to expectations, the product development lessons the Lo brothers learned from the contest set them on the path to creating Yoso — their own food company. In 2020, Cambridge, Ont. based Yoso opened a new $10-million facility. The company has increased production 1o times and now produces 22 plant-based product lines that can be found in about 2,000 retail locations across Canada.

Erik and Francis Lo produce 22 plant-based product lines at their Cambridge, Ont. Yoso production facility.

Innovation has always been part of the brothers’ core values and they enjoy collaborating to bring new choices to Canadian consumers. After starting mainly as a soybean product company, Yoso is now also the first company to launch unsweetened coconut yogurt in Canada as well as almond/cashew products.

Two years ago, Yoso took a liking to oats. Francis says he and his brother were looking at crops grown in Canada to identify those that could potentially fit their product goals. After some development work they concluded that oats could be used to make yogurt. Lo describes Yoats as thick and creamy and packed with fibre and protein, and it’s very light compared to dairy and other plant-based yogurts. Canadians appear to agree. “It’s been a tremendous success,” says Lo, who notes that Yoats is now available in Sobeys, Walmart and Loblaws locations. It can also be found in the health food section of 400 independent health food stores.

In this interview with RealAgriculture’s Bernard Tobin, Francis comments on the plant-based food potential for oats and other crops grown by Canadian farmers. He notes that the oats used to make Yoats are grown in the Saskatoon, Sask. area and are sourced from multiple suppliers including Only Oats.

Francis discusses consumers’ relationship with food and their need for transparency and clarity in how food ingredients such as oats are produced. He also notes how health considerations and personal values — from protecting the environment to animal welfare — are playing an increasing role in buying habits and market opportunities for new products.

Listen to Francis Lo and Bernard Tobin discuss Yoats and opportunities for oat growers:

 

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