EVENT RECAP: Coffee & Jam #228

In this session, we celebrate the five year anniversary of Coffee & Jam. Mark Dillon shared the awesome story behind Aroha Drinks and you have been enlightened by Ben Atkinson from Fill Their Lunchbox. 

Speaker One: Ben Atkinson from Fill Their Lunchbox

This is a story of the ongoing Social Rebuild, and works with a buy one, gift two model. Fill Their Lunchbox is an easy and simple idea which gives people the opportunity to, without much effort, make a positive impact on the world.

Ben grew up in Nelson, and besides the terrible nightlife, there is very little otherwise to do, without you having a purpose. Hence, he lives in Christchurch now, where he started to be a guitar and jazz player, as you cannot study to be a forensic palaeoanthropologist here. Between playing death metal and making bacon and eggs, Ben did not feel like he was making an impact. As he sees it, at age 29, he had a midlife crisis, after the earthquake and the loss of a good mate, caused a reflection to the question of ‘What am I doing with my life?’. Ākina send him down to Ministry of Awesome, where Coffee & Jam made him realise the importance of networking.

Essentially, he wanted to combine his cooking skills with a purpose that would impact the community and leave a legacy. And so, he started making lunches without marketing the idea, but really beginning small. Currently, under the model of buy one, gift two, 35,952 lunches have already been donated to kids in 12 Christchurch schools, who would otherwise not have a good lunch. Fill Their Lunchbox partners with Odyssey House, which is a life, drug and alcohol house, where 15-24 guys just out of prison live, until they have to re-engaged with society. The kitchen at Odyssey House is used by Fill Their Lunchbox, and in return they retrain the men and enable them to showcase that there is a purpose for them too, in a better way, and their value in society is higher than previously when they only had a negative impact.

It has been an epic journey, with a lot of how not to do things. One of the neglected parts was marketing really, but the PledgeMe campaign was the start of the learning path. For instance, he realised he could not work 80 hours a week and run the campaign! It showed him that he maybe lacked a couple of characteristics for the business, so he outsourced it. Ben perceived this ‘wrong’ way, as an opportunity to grow and learn. Collective impact only made the organisation stronger and it is truly about getting everyone involved. In the near future, Fill Their Lunchbox aims to extend their purpose and the focus will also include mentoring as a service, but without this awesome environment Ben would not have gotten this far.

Some of the lessons for us all:

-          Be critical of yourself

-          Learn to accept criticism

-          Meet everybody

-          Focus on your strength, outsource the rest

-          You are not a hero

Check out the website www.filltheirlunchbox.co.nz and become involved in whatever way you can!



 Speaker Two:  Mark Dillon from Aroha Drinks

Aroha has been 10 years in the making and is a true Canterbury story. Mark studied marketing and had a job as a brand manager, which was basically just moving papers from one side of the desk to another, and scribbling a bit on them! After 4 years, which was an achievement in itself! He stopped and travelled Europe for a bit, where he saw all kind of ciders and elderflower drinks. Kiwi’s love to drink a few he thought, so he brought the idea back. He first sought his way into the business by working for a brand, but it seemed hard to compete in the sector.

After going home, his mother brought him some elderflower syrup and showed him how easy it was to make. Mark made a first trial batch of 400 litres and copied a label of an English brand and send them out. Cuisine Magazine took a photo and put it in the emporium. The trial batch ran out quite quickly after that, so he figured it was successful trail and enough to jump in the deep end. He cooked in his bathtub at first, but later scaled up by buying a container and renovated it to a kitchen. It all went amazing, elderflower cordials were made in different tastes, labels were designed and then realised not everyone liked elderflower, that the brand was not visible enough and elderflower was not easy to obtain. Thus, Mark broadened the range and take off the pressure on elderflower and take on the big brands like Phoenix.

He got advice from a similar entrepreneur who sold his company to Coca Cola for 60 million and the big secret was to franchise the distribution. Mark implemented this by the idea by hiring people to drive around in a branded-up van, and to go round and sell it to cafes and restaurants all over New Zealand which they then earned 25% commission. However, at the same time the Harrington Brewery was going from strength to strength and getting too full and unable to keep producing the cordials and ciders. Therefore, Mark invested in his own production plant in China. 

The basic message: create an idea, outsource production once the idea is validated and then invest in gear.





Avon-Ōtākaro Network has two exciting activities this weekend. On Saturday their ground-level garden is being planted and they would love a couple of helping hands so anyone who is interested turn up between 10am-2pm at Richmond Community Garden. Also another event called Meet in the Middle is happening on the ? to engage people to get in the red zone, via bike. All details can be found on their Facebook page!

The Monthly Co. is subscription for tampons and then you donate to Refuge Shelters to make sure woman have access to those goods. They still need to raise about $7000, you can donate via pledge me: https://www.pledgeme.co.nz/projects/5357-the-monthly-co-a-collective-of-women-supporting-women  

Angus is looking for a challenge in the area of software development and ICT. You can contact him at anguswhitehead@me.com or give him a call at 0226092740.


Coffee & Jam is Christchurch's longest running weekly meet up for entrepreneurially-minded people. It’s a great place to see ordinary people doing extraordinary things, meet people, learn and share in a creative space, hear about other events in Christchurch and indulge in a little bit of free coffee, jam and bread.

If you have an idea you'd like to pitch get in touch with Gina at gina@ministryofawesome.com.