From high school sweethearts to business partners, talk about growth!
Eloise and Jamari Ambursley have always been big fans of healthy eating – just ask Eloise for her amazing overnight recipe – and oat milk has been a staple for them and their families. But with Jamari’s grandmother and Eloise’s mother both having diabetes, the products on the market were too packed with sugar to be a healthy choice.
The couple decided to take their health into their own hands. Literally. The two came together and came up with Oat Canada, a brand of oat milk that was actually zero-added sugar. Over the last year and a half, the brand that had goals of being in a few hundred stores has hit a few thousand, with no sign of slowing down.
We sat down with this power couple to discuss Oat Canada’s past, present, and future.
I’m so excited to sit down with y’all! My family is a big oat milk family, so I’ve seen Oat Canada and definitely done my online creeping. But for those who don’t know, tell us a little bit more about Oat Canada. What do you do? What inspired this journey?
E: Of course! So much like you and your family, we aren’t big dairy drinkers. Jamari specifically is lactose intolerant and I have a nut allergy so I can’t do almond milk. When we got married, we had to find something that fit both of our lifestyles. We fell in love with oat milk, but quickly realized they were super high in sugar and carbs. Jamari’s grandmother, and my mother, both have diabetes, and Jamari’s grandmother especially was on him about his eating habits!
J: Yeah, I’m a sugar addict!
E: A lot of our beverages, unknowingly to us, actually have a lot of sugar. We didn’t realize there was even sugar in milk or oat milk. Some are as high as 17 grams of sugar per serving – we thought that was maybe why we liked oar milk so much! But we really wanted an alternative that met our lifestyle and didn’t spike our blood sugar so much.
J: And we wanted something transparent. A lot of oat milk brands call themselves “unsweetened” or “no added sugar”. Ultimately, you want people to know what they’re putting in their bodies, not hide behind confusing labels. So we put it right on the front of the packaging – we slapped that zero grams of sugar right on the front. And that’s our commitment to consumers.
It’s funny, because I went to look at our oat milk in the fridge before we chatted. And we have unsweetened, so I assumed no sugar. But wow… there was sugar.
J: Yeah, it’s tricky! And we aren’t against sugar, we just wanted an easy way for Canadians to reduce their sugar consumption without feeling like it’s a diet or rigorous thing. It’s an easy way to make a big change.
So, we touched a little bit on what made you launch Oat Canada. It’s a great healthy alternative, but it also feels like a passion project in the sense that there’s such family tied to it. It adds such an amazing touch to a business when it becomes personal. But of course, the last year and a hafl were tough times to launch a business. What were your biggest learnings and challenges launching during such, I hate to use this buzzword again, unprecedented times?
J: Yeah, it truly was! Obviously, starting a business during one of the world’s craziest times isn’t easy. But it forced us to be resourceful. We were doing a lot of unprecedented things during unprecedented times. We both have tech backgrounds, so we approached everything the same way we would in tech. Our biggest thing was scalability, market fit, and understanding our consumer. If we achieved these three things, during the pandemic, before, or after, we would find success. And we launched, and it was a perfect time. Consumers were at home, learning about new products, and we found different ways to share our products. We were resourceful. Our first store we got into was actually Costco! Ultimately, we were forced to be nimble and learn. The growth that we saw during the pandemic really had us thinking. If we can succeed at this level now, imagine what we can do next.
E: Just launching was the hardest part. We were originally supposed to launch with local coffee shops, but they had to back out as stores closed. We had 60,000 litres with nowhere to put it. But Jamari had the idea to start pitching to grocery retail! We cold emailed a bunch of people and eventually reached somebody at Costco who was the head of that category. Since then, we’ve been growing rapidly. But going into Costco first was a lot of learning. It’s like playing basketball in middle school and the next day you have to go to the NBA!
Well it’s been a slam dunk! So, I know you both come from tech. What’s been your biggest lesson you’ve learned, from Oat Canada or the tech world, that has resonated with you most? What advice would you give somebody who is diving into a completely new space?
E: A few years ago, somebody told us to do the hard things when it’s still easy. While we’re in our 20s, and have no kids, it’s time to take those risks. Fail a lot of times! Those failures aren’t really failures, they’re learning. We’ve started this business, and people see us in Costco and Loblaws and think it’s all up. But we fail everyday. We stumble along the way and face challenges, so if you want to start, start. Take the risk. You won’t know everything until you try to figure it out.
I also have to say… the connection between the two of you is so clear. It’s incredible! You can see it’s such a team effort.
J: Yeah, you’ll hear me praise my wife a lot!
E: He is awesome to work with.
J: *laughing* She’s lying to you. I annoy her a lot.
E: No! You challenge me. You pushed me and it’s how we got where we are. We have always competed, it’s been like that since high school.
J: And believe it or not, Eloise is an introvert. I’m not, I love talking to people. It’s been so great seeing her grow into this speaking, and doing these interviews like this! You wouldn’t see her doing this a while ago. She’s grown out of her shell. She’s a chess player, does math in her spare time. I love sports. We come from two worlds, But that dynamic has come across with Oat Canada.
Okay, and one final question. A fun one, if I do say so myself. What is your favourite recipe or drink you’ve used an Oat Canada product in?
E: The number one thing we have is overnight oats. I prepare it every night and I put everything in there. Supergreens, rolled oats, zero sugar oat milk.
J: For me, it’s just cereal. The cereal is high in sugar, so I like using our milk because it’s already sugary! It’s a no brainer for me, I have it every day.
Keep an eye out for Oat Canada’s bright pink branding in your local grocery store, and stay up to date with all Oat Canada-related news by following them on Instagram at @oatcanada or visit oatcanada.com.