By Jane Robinson for AgInnovation Ontario
Candace Tierney came up with the idea for her frozen dessert over a bowl of oatmeal.
She eats it every day, and one morning she started to pay more attention to how creamy and thick the oats were. And she wondered about the possibility of creating an ice cream alternative from oats.
“I’m a lactose-intolerant ice cream lover, and that’s not a good combination,” said Tierney, founder and owner of Ottawa-based Oat & Mill food company. “I started out playing with the idea of using oats as an alternate ingredient in ice cream. I was tired of eating products made from coconut, almond or soy, and wondered why there weren’t other options on the market.”
When Tierney finished her marketing degree, she officially started Oat & Mill through an incubator startup offered at the University of Ottawa.
That was June 2015, and it took her through one summer of making her oat-based frozen desserts, selling them online, delivering them door to door, testing endless recipe iterations and gathering valuable customer feedback.
“We found a lot of interest in our product that first summer,” Tierney said. “So we just kept going, developing and tweaking our product, and officially launched four Oat & Mill flavours in early 2017.”
Sourcing the best oats and overseeing the milling process are key to the product, and the company name.
“We use Canadian oat varieties that are higher in fat with a good nutrition profile, and have them milled to our specifications to create the creamy oats for our product,” she said.
There are now 28 stores in the Ottawa area that carry the Oat & Mill line of ice cream alternatives in chocolate peanut butter, chocolate mint, banana walnut and spice, and coffee biscotti flavours.
The company now employs five people, including Tierney, and works with a local manufacturer for production. And in 2016, Oat & Mill was recognized as a Premier’s Award for Agri-Food Innovation Excellence regional winner.
Tierney isn’t new to startups. She began several businesses during university including landscaping, web design and making vegetable chips.
“I’ve always been interested in entrepreneurship, and Oat & Mill really morphed out of the companies I started in school,” she said.
It’s been a few tough years getting Oat & Mill going, according to Tierney, but the rewards come in the faces of her happy customers.
“We did a summer event and I was shocked to see people line up for my product. It gave me a pretty good sense that maybe I know what I’m doing,” she said.