SunOpta Inc. in Alexandria is planning a $26 million expansion project to meet the growing national demand for oat milk.

The company, which has an oat-based processing facility at 601 Third Ave. W, bills itself as a pioneer in plant-based foods and beverages, organic ingredient sourcing and production. SunOpta said it is doubling down on its prediction of strong and sustainable growth for the oat milk category.

As one of the largest facilities of its kind in the United States, the plant will use proprietary enzymatic processes to break down whole oats into a liquid oat base that will then be used to make oat milk and other products such as yogurt and ice cream, according to a news release from the company issued Nov. 11.

In addition to the current 66 SunOpta employees in Alexandria, this new addition will create more than 20 new jobs and will quadruple oat base production, according to the company.

Over the past year, the oat milk market in the United States has grown more than 250% and is now the second most popular plant-based milk in the country after almond milk, according to Nielsen, a data and market measurement firm.

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As consumers continue to look for plant-based beverage options in the milk aisle and beyond, SunOpta said it is optimistic about new innovative uses for oat milk that will continue category growth.

“We are passionate about our mission to help fuel the future of food and beverages," SunOpta CEO Joe Ennen said in the news release. "Plant-based products are demonstrably better for the environment and better for us. With this significant investment, we’re well positioned for the continued growth in the coming years as consumers continue their decades-long migration toward plant-based alternatives.”

Ennen added that SunOpta is not not just investing in a product, but also in its food future by bringing plant-based options to consumers that are healthy for them and for the planet.

SunOpta supplies oat base as an ingredient to other companies, manufactures oat milk for leading brands and food service operators throughout the country, and produces private label oat-based products for many top national retailers.

The company said it has seen "incredible success" over the past year, with consistent growth and profitability. SunOpta’s stock price more than tripled between March and October 2020, and the company’s recent Q3 2020 earnings report showed its adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization, a measure of a evaluate a company's operating performance, more than doubled year over year for the fourth consecutive quarter.

About SunOpta Inc.

SunOpta Inc. is a leading global company focused on plant-based foods and beverages, fruit-based foods and beverages, and organic ingredient sourcing and production. It specializes in the sourcing, processing and packaging of organic, natural and non-genetically modified food products.