Boring Oat Milk’s founder Morgan Maw traded in the bright lights of Auckland for a quieter life in New Plymouth this year. But the city still holds an important place in her heart, and for her growing business.
To celebrate 10 years of Parrotdog, The Spinoff is partnering with the brewery to share the stories of New Zealanders doing great things. In the first series of Birdseye View, we’re interviewing 10 interesting Aucklanders about their relationship with the city and how it shapes their lives.
I’m early for my interview with Morgan Maw, so I wander through Avondale’s town centre to find a coffee. There’s a small yellow coffee caravan called Ol’ Mate parked up near the busy intersection of Great North and Rosebank Roads, where a pair of tradesmen are waiting on a round of flat whites to go. Sitting on the bench of the caravan window is an instantly recognisable bottle of Boring Oat Milk.
There’s an oat milk revolution happening around the world as more and more people discover its creaminess makes a delicious and sustainable substitute for dairy. It’s good in coffee, with porridge or muesli, in baking and cooking, and if you’re a glass of milk person, it holds its own that way too. It has a versatility no other dairy-free milk can match.
It wouldn’t be a surprise if some of the tradies had made the switch to oat milk in their flat whites now too.
I wander back towards The Hollywood, Avondale’s iconic theatre, venue hall and cinema that’s been running for over 100 years, oat milk flat white in hand. I find Maw waiting inside, exploring the space – empty and eerily quiet for a venue I’m used to seeing packed with buzzing crowds.
Maw carries herself with elegance and confidence. She seems completely comfortable in the lights perched on The Hollywood stage as we take photos and a drone buzzes around her head. She carries a giant green tote over her shoulder, “Boring” embroidered on its side; you can tell her belief in the product is real from the way she talks about it so proudly.
Maw launched Boring Oat Milk in 2019, making it New Zealand’s first and only commercial oat milk brand produced locally from end-to-end – the oats are grown in Otago and Southland and processed in Hawke’s Bay. Other brands using New Zealand-grown oats send them across the world to Sweden for processing, before they come back here to be sold as milk.
For a product made from such a sustainable crop – and marketed on its environmental credentials – the transport emissions for this overseas processing didn’t make sense to Maw. Being made in New Zealand was “non-negotiable,” so she held back the launch of Boring until she had figured out how to be totally locally made.
The process ended up taking three years, and took Maw on the journey many other oat milk brands go on – to Sweden and back. Tasting different oat milks and witnessing how they were made in Sweden gave her an idea of what would be needed to localise that process. Back in New Zealand, she approached many different processing companies to find one that could turn her oats into a concentrated oat milk liquid base, which could then be turned into Boring Oat Milk.
She found that perfect partner in The Apple Press, a Hawke’s Bay apple juice company. They had the right equipment and skill, but getting the final oaty product just right involved a fair amount of trial and error.
“One trial we accidentally mixed apple juice with oat milk, and it was pretty foul”, Maw recalls. “Like a kind of acidic, apple-flavoured oat milk – a little bit curdled.” Now they’ve got the process down to an art, Boring Oat Milk has a subtly sweet flavour and creamy mouthfeel.
Growing up in Taranaki, Maw spent plenty of time on her aunt’s dairy farm, which is where she was introduced to the environmental potential of oats. “We’d do lots of riparian plantings, along waterways to soak up nitrates, and she used to plant oats – for animal feed and because they help soak up the nitrates and reduce and prevent runoff into waterways. I always thought it was pretty cool that this very humble grain can do so much. So eight years ago I thought ‘what product can I create that’s different from all the products that are out there?'”
That product was Bonnie Oatcakes, which Maw initially sold at Parnell’s La Cigale markets, then stocked in supermarkets as a specialty product. But while it wasn’t an unsuccessful venture, the luxury price point and limited use meant Maw wasn’t satisfied with the impact it was having.
“It was always a really niche brand, and I realised it was always just going to be the sort of fancy cracker that you’d have on a cheese board. Even though we had great intentions, the scale was small so the impact was small.”
Seeing the positive impact of the oat crops on her aunt’s farm, Maw wanted to create a business that used oats in a large-scale way. Oats are great at absorbing nitrates from the soil and improving groundwater quality, and take far less water to grow than other plant based options like almonds or soy. She realised oat milk was an opportunity to become a part of the everyday lives of New Zealanders and provide an alternative to the heavy carbon footprint of dairy.
Boring Oat Milk was officially launched on August 19, 2021 – just after Auckland went into its longest lockdown. It became an instant hit when it landed in supermarkets and cafes, and for a minute demand outstripped supply to the point where rumours spread about where Boring was still available around the city.
The branding has been an essential part of the success. Boring stands out in supermarkets, amongst a wave of oat milk brands with punny names and colourful tetra-pak boxes. Boring’s distinctive green and white colourway, recyclable plastic bottles and simple, bold branding has an easy sophistication.
Naming the brand Boring was a bold move, but it felt right to showcase the milk’s ability to blend well into any food or beverage, Maw explains. “Milk is like a supporting actor. It’s not the star. It’s the coffee that’s exciting, it’s the cereal that’s exciting. Milk’s something that you just want to be reliable and consistent, but not shine out. Milk’s actually really boring.”
The Hollywood holds a special place in Maw’s heart. While living in Tāmaki Makaurau through her mid-20s and early 30s she was a regular at the Avondale venue, and she describes it as a microcosm of the Auckland she loves – a showcase of its diversity, its warmth, its soul and its penchant for a party.
It’s easily one of the city’s best gig venues. The stage has been graced by many of New Zealand’s most legendary musicians over the years, and its 35mm projector has shown some of the most iconic flicks of the past century – including a world record 21-year run of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
“I don’t know how many times I saw Connan Mockasin here, and the film festival – it always just felt really special. For me, The Hollywood is just representative of these institutions that are so important for Auckland, what really gives us that sense of community in such a big city.”
We wander down the road back toward the town centre, and stop again at the yellow coffee caravan with the distinctive Boring bottle displayed on the countertop. Maw introduces herself to the barista as “Morgan, the founder,” with a beaming smile. As widely used as her brand now is, she’s still stoked every time she spots it in a cafe.
Maw recently moved out of Tāmaki Makaurau and back to her hometown of New Plymouth, in search of a slower pace of living and to be closer to her family – and the beach. “New Plymouth is that gear shift that I felt like I needed, especially with the business being so busy. Auckland is great and it’s got a real buzz, but when I clock off and finish work at the end of the day I want to be straight down to the beach and have that space – the mental space as well as the physical space,” she says.
The ocean is an important sanctuary for Maw. While living in Auckland, one of the most important connections she made was with the moana that surrounds the city. Growing up in New Plymouth she was used to black sand surf beaches. In Auckland she embraced the relationship locals have with being on the water, not just in it, like back home. “The water is so integral to the sort of lifeblood and community here,” she says.
She and a group of friends went in on an old sailing boat they found on Trade Me – a 1950s, 28-foot kauri sailboat that needed some love. Spending time on the ocean, working out how to take care of the boat and learning to sail was a special time in Maw’s life.
“We were YouTubing ‘how to anchor a sailboat’ while we were sitting in the Waitematā Harbour. We learned how to fix an engine, how to fix everything ourselves. That was a big part of my Auckland.”
Maw’s Auckland now exists in smaller bursts than it once did – but that’s just made her experiences more concentrated. That buzz of the big city means she never stays away for too long. In the few months since she moved to New Plymouth, Maw has already been up to Auckland five times, mostly for business, though she wraps these trips with non-work activities too.
“Now that I live in a smaller town I can come up and go to the new eateries that have opened up, and just catch up with people and certainly make the most of it, pack it in while I’m here.”
Maw is back in Auckland again this week to launch a new collaboration between Boring and Parrotdog, one of New Zealand’s pioneering craft breweries. The Boring Beer, an Oat Milk Hazy IPA, will be released on July 15. In a marketing pun too good to pass up, the beer is being launched with back-to-back gigs headlined by Dunedin band Soaked Oats at The Hollywood Avondale on July 15, and the Parrotdog bar in Wellington on July 16.
It’s a perfect blend of homegrown brands, which Maw says felt like a natural partnership. “Here was another New Zealand brand that had really strong values and a good sense of community, and for us that’s super important.”
She had seen a few breweries in the US using oat milk to create hazy beers – oats are already used in the production of hazies – so brought the idea to the team at Parrotdog. After sending them a few jerrycans of Boring’s “secret sauce” oat base, she let the brewers do the rest. The collaboration has given Boring an opportunity to branch out of the morning space it’s typically confined into.
“The majority of people experience Boring Oat Milk in a breakfast setting at the beginning of the day. And we’re always just thinking about ways that we can be part of people’s lives in more ways than just at the breakfast table.”
Popping across town after we’ve finished our coffee, I drop her at her next engagement, a lunch with a potential new Boring distributor on Ponsonby Road. Maw seems to have found the balance between business and calm that keeps both interesting – Auckland changes with each visit, while her New Plymouth life stays relatively still. As long as her business continues to go from strength to strength, Maw’s life is anything but boring.