Oat & Mill: Revolutionizing Dairy-Free Ice Cream

February 22, 2024

Nothing says summer like a delicious, refreshing scoop of ice cream. For entrepreneur, Candace Tierney, ice cream has always been the highlight of her summers, but when she cut dairy out of her diet, everything changed.

Faced with limited dairy-free options that resembled a parlour shop-style ice cream, in 2015, Tierney took it upon herself to reinvent the frosty treat to better suit her tastes. This decision springboarded her to found Oat & Mill, a successful, award-winning business that prides itself on delivering vegan, oat-based ice creams that are made from scratch using nationally and locally sourced ingredients. “We use 100% Canadian grown oats,” said Tierney of her ice cream. “Everything is made in house – it’s more work this way, but in our opinion, it tastes better.”

Located in the Ottawa Valley with a production centre at the Ontario Agri-Food Venture Centre (OAFVC) in Colborne, Tierney began Oat & Mill in her kitchen, testing recipes and then selling her ice cream at a local farmer’s market. After much success at the market and with many requests to have the product available in stores, Oat & Mill expanded into retailers across Canada in 2020 and can now be found in more than 600 locations, including distribution in major grocery chains.

Oat & Mill is not only unique in the product it produces but it also stands out in its partnership with the Employment Accessibility Resource Network (EARN), a program that increases employment opportunities for people with disabilities. What started as Tierney hiring an employee from a job fair, who unbeknownst to her was a member of the EARN program, evolved into now having more than 50 per cent of her production staff being hired from the program. “EARN is an incredible program because they have job coaches that will support employees and help them assimilate into their new role,” said Tierney of working with the program. “Oat & Mill greatly fosters a work environment that creates more meaningful work for persons with disabilities.”

When Tierney launched Oat & Mill, she took the path of bootstrapping her business, forgoing investors, and taking advantage of programs such as DELIA, an affordable lending solution for women-owned businesses across Canada. Offered by NCFDC, with the support of FedDev Ontario and ISED Canada, DELIA is committed to providing loans to Canadian women-owned enterprise for business start up, stabilization, and expansion. “Programs like DELIA are rare and unique and so valuable because the funding gave Oat & Mill more opportunity to grow,” said Tierney.

NCFDC Executive Director, Wendy Curtis notes her organization’s commitment to backing the success of women entrepreneurs. “We are proud to back dynamic and innovative women-owned ventures like Oat & Mill,” said Curtis. “With the Government of Canada, our organization is committed to helping to close the historic gender access to capital gap and to unleash the full potential of inclusive economic growth.”

For Tierney, DELIA played a significant role in helping Oat & Mill expand its operations. “Statistics show that it’s more challenging for women to get financing for their business from traditional banks,” said Tierney of the barriers women entrepreneurs can sometimes face. “When I started the business, there weren’t options like DELIA. For new businesses, it can be a little overwhelming or daunting to go out and raise money, so I think this is a really accessible way for people to get started and build a business.”

Tierney’s humble beginnings are not lost on her as she looks forward to continuing to grow Oat & Mill’s operations. “It’s been a long time, a long journey,” said Tierney, in a moment of reflection. “It’s super rewarding and enjoyable to see where it’s come from because it was this thing I did in my kitchen that I just didn’t think would amount to much. But when you create a product that has an impact on someone, and they show you how it’s changing their life in some way, that’s really powerful.”

Click here to learn more about DELIA and apply today.

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