Oatly and Torani Sponsor Interviews

Originally published Friday, June 11th 2021


By: Sierra Shahan

Since the LittleJohn Produce Box Project began in the spring of 2020, we’ve had the pleasure of partnering with some incredible companies both big and small. Two of those companies, Torani and Oatly, have committed themselves to providing community support even beyond their involvement with LJPBP in the midst of COVID-19. Both Torani and Oatly have strong ties to the coffee industry, and when the pandemic presented the coffee world with a new set of unexpected challenges, the two businesses rose to the occasion and contributed to the rebuilding process.

I had the pleasure of speaking with Ace Bertin of Oatly and Jess Candea of Torani about their companies’ respective experiences and efforts throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.


Ace Bertin, now a Coffee Sales Manager for Oatly, was originally the Market Development Manager for the Rocky Mountain Region. Her focus is on Oatly’s relationship with the coffee industry, supporting the ever-growing community of baristas and coffee shops that serve Oatly’s plant-based products — a task that has only grown more critical in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As a company that produces food products, Oatly is considered an “essential business,” meaning it could continue operations throughout the pandemic as long as proper health measures were put in place. “Even in a pandemic, people are still going to buy oat milk,” says Ace. “There is still a need for good plant-based and allergen-friendly foods.” However, while Oatly continued conducting business, the company noticed a huge slow-down in the coffee industry, as coffee shops across the country were forced to lay-off baristas or close altogether. According to Ace, many of the individuals working in her area of Oatly came directly from working in the coffee field and they felt an urgent need to act when the pandemic hit.

Although Oatly has always supported the coffee community, this new landscape called for some redirection of their methods. “We had to re-route our energy, capital, and time to better serve the needs of the coffee industry,” says Ace. This included contributions to virtual barista tip jars, donations of Oatly products, fundraisers, and a greater focus on community engagement. The intention was to not shrink from the moment, but rather to meet it and adapt accordingly.

I really think that this project comes from such truth and conviction and authenticity.

In addition to supporting baristas and coffee shops, Oatly became a valuable sponsor of the LittleJohn Product Box Project in the spring. Ace knew Alexandra from the coffee community, and was instantly drawn to Alexandra’s idea of donating fresh produce to baristas and their families. In the months since, Oatly has made a recurring donation of $1500 to the project, allowing us to send produce boxes to even more families and individuals in need. “I really think that this project comes from such truth and conviction and authenticity,” Ace says of LJPBP.

So what does the future hold for Oatly? When I asked Ace this question, she put it quite simply: “A commitment to continue the work that’s already been started.” The company plans to move forward with their efforts to support baristas and the coffee business, as well as continue their mission to provide quality plant-based food. “We’re also in a climate crisis,” Ace noted, “and that’s Oatly’s primary mission. People want to help fight climate change even if it’s just by changing what they put in their coffee.”


Torani has always been a company that cares deeply about its team and its community. Jess Candea knows this well. She currently serves as a Territory Development Manager for Colorado, networking with clients & distributors in the area. Pre-COVID, Jess’s job involved a lot of workshops, events, and traveling, but the pandemic has led to a shift in Torani’s priorities and actions.

We were in a position to help and we wanted to work for our community.

Like Oatly, Torani is considered an “essential business” and has continued operations throughout COVID, albeit with a plethora of new safety guidelines in place (daily temperature checks, extra sanitation efforts, and mandated masks in company spaces). Unfortunately, many of Torani’s partners in the coffee and food-service industries weren’t as lucky and had to close either temporarily or permanently as a result of the pandemic. Torani has always been an ardent supporter of the coffee community and in this time of extreme need, the company recognized its responsibility to provide assistance. According to Jess, “We were in a position to help and we wanted to work for our community.”

This desire to help manifested in a few different ways. First, there was Torani Cafe Opportunity Fund, a support network built by the company to assist their numerous partners in the restaurant and coffee industries. Projects within the Opportunity Fund include product donations to frontline workers, cash grants for cafes to restock their inventories, webinars and online workshops for restaurant/cafe workers, and the Barista Fund, which gives money directly to affected baristas. Along with people and resources, Torani contributed $250,000 to the Opportunity Fund. As Jess explained, Torani was “grateful for the community” and committed to providing support however the company could.

The support also manifested in Torani’s contributions to the Little John Produce Box Project. Jess knew Alexandra from Ozo Coffee and reached out to her at the beginning of the pandemic to network for barista outreach opportunities. Once the LJPBP was established, Torani was able to donate money and product for produce boxes via the Barista Fund.

With 2021 on the horizon, Torani has a lot more work it plans to do. According to Jess, they will continue their community outreach with extensive online workshops (including lessons in flavor and drink innovations) as well as an increased presence on Instagram stories and Facebook Live. One of Torani’s mottos is to “Care Deeply About Each Other” and, as Jess explained, the company plans to continue doing exactly that by building off of the lessons already learned about creative ways to help the community.

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