Missoula entrepreneur uses Montana-grown oats for plant-based milk business | Local News

Teresa Morales tripped over her dumpster one day, spilling dozens of disposable containers for the plant-based milk she drinks due to her severe dairy allergy.

She immediately realized that there had to be a better way.

“I was like, ‘Wow, what could I do to improve this?'” Morales recalled. “And I started researching it.”

Pretty soon she bought a water heater and obtained a license to operate it, and now Morales owns and operates Cool Earth Creamery in Missoula. She uses organic, gluten-free oats from Montana and Canada to make her own custom oat milk recipe in reusable glass bottles.

At a shop in the North Reserve Industrial Park, Morales installed the kettle and all manner of high-tech equipment to make the mix. She supplies stores like Orange Street Food Farm and Good Food Store, and restaurants like Green Source Missoula and Basal.

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It was the environmental cost of big corporations’ oat milk that bugged her.

“Some sort of what’s available to consumers on a plant-based basis is produced on either the West or East Coast,” she explained. “It’s likely made from grains or beans grown outside of the States. It is packed in disposable containers. It’s shipped hundreds of thousands of miles here in Montana. We drink the product and then take care of the waste for their trash here in our waste stream.”

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She realized that there were no major commercial plant-based milk producers in Montana. She was motivated to help Montana farmers and reduce the waste stream.

“If I could make a product locally and use locally sourced grain and reusable containers, I could create a win-win situation,” she recalled. “And the money I save by not using single-use packaging and shipping hundreds of thousands of miles, I could use to pay growers the true cost of the grain, and I could buy organic and pay my workers a decent wage.”

At True Foods Missoula, Orange Street Food Farm and Good Food Store, customers can receive a $2 refund when they return the quart-sized glass bottle to the retailer, or they can receive a discount on their next purchase of the brand. Morales also donates the extra oat milk to the Missoula Food Bank each week. She produces about 100 gallons a week.

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Morales once worked for the US Army Corps of Engineers, building schools, roads, clinics and wells in a remote part of Afghanistan. Prior to her assignment, she had to undergo a health screening and discovered that she had a severe milk allergy.

She hopes her shop gives people with the same condition another option, but she also hopes regular milk drinkers might prefer the flavor of her recipe in their morning coffee or cereal. Using whole grains and complex enzyme treatment from start to finish, Morales says their product tastes better and more interesting than the big national brands.

“Because we’re starting with this whole grain, we get a rich, complex flavor that I don’t think you get with other plant-based milks,” she said.

Writing about the increasing popularity of plant-based milk for the National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Biotechnology Information, researchers Swati Sethi, SK Tyagi, and Rahul Anurag said oat milk should be fortified with calcium if it is to be considered a dietary alternative to cow’s milk. However, they said that sales of oat milk have been steadily increasing around the world in recent years.

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“Oat milk is new to the market because of its potential therapeutic benefits,” they wrote. “Oats have attracted a lot of interest due to the presence of fiber, phytochemicals and high nutritional value.”

For Morales, the business model has been successful so far, and it’s steadily increasing.

“This operation has many win-win components,” she said. “Like any business, you start with an idea, and it’s much more complicated. But that core ethos has driven us forward. And I think we’re staying true to that as we move forward.”

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