Did You Know Your Daily Cuppa Can Help Others?

Did You Know Your Daily Cuppa Can Help Others?

Australians consume around 1.92 kilograms of coffee per person per year, in an industry worth over 2 billion dollars, which is expected to grow by 8.28 per cent (CAGR in 2021-2025).

However only some of it filters down quite as strongly as it does through Melbourne’s Aussie Veterans Coffee Co, a Buy Aussie Now brand. It was set up by John McNeill, who served in the Army in East Timor in 2007 before being medically discharged in 2009. He’s now the CEO of Aussie Veterans Pty Ltd, which has several arms including Aussie Veterans Coffee Co.

"It’s a social enterprise, so for the last decade, I’ve volunteered my time as a veteran’s advocate," he explains. "I help veterans with their claims. And I started the coffee company because I saw the need to raise money as going through Government processes can take time. I also wanted to provide employment opportunities,” he says.

In a recent article in The Conversation,  Nicole Sadler, Associate Professor Department of Psychiatry at the University of Melbourne, confirms  that "one of the most challenging periods for military personnel can be transitioning back to civilian life.

The academic stated that the "rates of suicide are also concerning, particularly among younger veterans. Between 2001 and 2016, 373 Australian veterans took their own lives. Male veterans under 30 had a suicide rate more than twice the national average for men the same age. These figures have led to considerable community concern, including calls for a Royal Commission into veteran suicide."

Against such a background, McNeil, 38  - a former chef before joining the army, decided that the best way to raise money to help his fellow veterans would be through the hospitality industry, as this is what he knows best.

"I thought I’d go into the coffee business because people always want to drink coffee and tea. I believed I could probably get some good blends that everyone would want to buy.

"We started off in markets just selling bags of tea and coffee then we progressed to a food truck. Now we have a cafe in Boronia and a wholesale business as well,” he says, proudly.

McNeil admits that it was tough at the beginning because the coffee roasters that he first approached wanted to sell him 48 kilos at a time.

"There was  just no way we could commit to that as we were only selling coffee at the market. We weren’t even selling drinks at this stage, it was just purely bagged teas and coffees."

McNeill decided to try some of the roasters in his local area of Boronia and eventually found a roaster who was willing to sell in small batches.

"He’s been with us since 2017 and keeps developing new brews for us and we also have some input,” he explains. "We’ve won several awards."

The varieties now include Blend F - Certified Fair Trade; the award winning Blend Delta; Blend Bravo - which is rich dark and smooth, along with Blend Charlie - dark chocolate with pepper & spices. There’s also tea, hot chocolate and drinks made with hemp.

During Melbourne’s Covid lockdown, McNeill, a father of four, worked to develop the brand’s website and saw his online business grow  "quite dramatically".

His future plans include operating the online business from its own warehouse.

"We’re also going to be opening a Veteran’s Enterprise Hub with an advocacy centre,” he says.

In the meantime, McNeill is also considering opening a cafe in a former shipping container in Queen Victoria Markets, along with some sports based initiatives to also tackle mental health for the wider community. 

John McNeill is unwavering in his determination to help his fellow  veterans and manage better mental health outcomes, while helping Australia make their tea and coffee breaks count. 

"Our mission at Aussie Veterans Coffee Co is to supply great tasting coffees, premium teas and hot chocolates and our profits are reinvested to further support Veteran employment and social programs for our veterans and their families,”  he says.

You can discover some of the Aussie Veterans Coffee Co, most delicious brews now on the Buy Aussie Now site.

ABOUT THE WRITER Ros Reines is a Sydney journalist and the author of four books.

She is currently penning her fifth - a memoir of a life in the media.

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