KANSAS CITY – A new beverage segment has oatmeal consumers swapping spoons for straws. A crop of oat-based smoothies, juices and milks recently has emerged, marketed as fiber-rich, grab-and-go breakfasts for the busy and, in some cases, lactose intolerant. Available in flavors from coffee to mango-peach, the products boast such benefits as reducing cholesterol and aiding digestion.

But will consumers warm up to the idea of potable porridge?

Click here for a slideshow of oat-based beverages.

“There’s a track record of success with oatmeal and other oat-related products, so transferring those benefits to a beverage isn’t really much of a stretch,” said Gary Hemphill, a director at the Beverage Marketing Corp., New York. “There are a lot of trends working in favor of products like oat beverages. People want a healthier refreshment, they are open to products with functional benefits, and they like product variety.”

Mr. Hemphill sees drinkable oats as part of a larger trend in better-for-you beverages that includes coconut water, aloe vera juice and probiotic drinks.

“In a lot of these cases, volumetric opportunities are not large for these products, but they are profitable because their price points are generally higher,” Mr. Hemphill said. “People are willing to pay more for a product that provides benefits.”

The most marketed benefits across product lines are the heart-healthy perks of oat’s beta-glucan soluble fiber. Swedish company Biovelop patented a process for extracting beta-glucan from oats into a colorless, taste-neutral powder, the proprietary ingredient in Oatworks oat and fruit smoothies.

Other products are made with oat flakes, oat flour or oat bran concentrates. Textures vary per product, providing different opportunities for consumers, said Ken Sadowsky, a beverage industry expert who has been watching the category.

Oatworks and Simpli OatShakes have a thick, creamy consistency and may be used as a meal replacement or mid-morning snack, he said.

He identified the least viscous option as Sneaky Pete’s Naturally Oatstanding Beverages, whose fruit flavors and colorful, cartoony packaging seem to suggest a low-calorie alternative to children’s sugar-sweetened beverages.

Other products, such as Simpli Naked Oat, are positioned as dairy alternatives, a category currently dominated by almond milk.

Larger brands are dipping a toe in oat-based drinks. Campbell Soup Co.’s Bolthouse Farms offers two flavors of parfait breakfast smoothies, blending fruit juice, yogurt and oat flour. PepsiCo’s Naked Juice is testing its fruit juice and oat smoothies in limited markets.
“Generally, it takes a lot of sampling and an effort to educate consumers and build awareness of a new product,” Mr. Hemphill said. “A year or two from now, we’ll have a better idea of the potential of the category.”