Sanitarium Health Food Company was registered as Australia’s first health food company in April 1898. It was established as part of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Australia to promote and produce plant-based health foods based on its belief that plant-based diets were originally designed to provide optimal health as outlined in the biblical model Worldwide, the Church operates health food industries and health-care services based on this philosophy.
Our enduring mission is to “share a message of health and hope with our community”. As such, the Seventh-day Adventist Church and Sanitarium continue to share an explicit common purpose and reason for existence.
Sanitarium started in 1898 with a mission to improve lives and a whole person view of health. Since then we’ve become one of Australia’s most trusted food companies.
When the company’s first baker, Edward Halsey, began preparing the very first Sanitarium products in 1898, he was driven by a desire to offer Australians healthier alternatives to the low nutrient and fat-laden foods that were common at the time. He rented a small bakery in Northcote, Melbourne, and produced Australia’s first batch of ready-to-eat breakfast cereal – Granola (made of wheats, oats, maize and rye) and Granose (the unsweetened forerunner to Weet-Bix).
It wasn’t long before the fledgling business relocated to larger premises – moving to Cooranbong, New South Wales, just south of Newcastle. In 1900, he transferred to New Zealand – where he began making the first batches of Granola, caramel cereals and bread, in a small wooden shed in Papanui, Christchurch.
Sanitarium’s original wheat biscuit, Granose, was marketed in Australia and New Zealand during the early 1900s, not only as a breakfast cereal but as an alternative to bread. During the 1920s, Sanitarium faced a challenge in the form of a new sweetened flake biscuit known as Weet-Bix™, which was produced by a company called Grain Products. In 1928, Sanitarium acquired Grain Products, a company which, like Sanitarium, had connections to the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
In 1902 as the popularity of Sanitarium products grew, the company began opening cafes around Australia that offered customers wholesome, plant-based foods and cooking demonstrations. The first was located in Pitt Street, Sydney.
The cafe concept aimed to introduce people to a healthier way of living and were embraced by the community. One customer was so impressed when he visited the Sydney store that he wrote asking for another meal to be prepared so that he could show his friends – more than 450 kilometres away!
Over a six-month period in 1904, the Pitt St cafe served 8,000 customers. By 1939, this had increased to almost 100,000 customers over a six month period.
In Australia and New Zealand, Sanitarium cafes and health food stores flourished for decades. However, by the 1980s changes in the buying habits of consumers prompted the company to close these outlets in order to partner with the growing supermarket era.
But it was not the end. In 2008, the Sanitarium cafe story continued with the opening of Kitchen by Sanitarium, a whole foods cafe in Eagle St, Brisbane that serves seasonal, delicious vegetarian food to hundreds of customers every day.
Marmite was introduced to Australia and New Zealand by Sanitarium. Initially, it was imported from the United Kingdom. Because it is an excellent source of vitamin B, Marmite was dropped from bi-planes to diggers stranded in Mesopotamia during World War I. It was also commandeered by the English government for their troops. Both world wars disrupted supplies, prompting Sanitarium to embark on the development of its own substitute.
In 1928, Marmite’s competitor launched the pun-laden name Parwill. “If Ma might, then Pa will…”. Parwill endured only a relatively short life, and the name was withdrawn in 1935.
After securing the secret formula from the English just before World War II, Sanitarium developed its own Marmite. In Australia, Marmite was made at the Cooranbong factory for the first time in 1944. Since the 1970s, the Sanitarium New Zealand factory in Christchurch has manufactured all the Marmite sold in the South Pacific.
The first company-owned vehicle was a decrepit horse and old dray that carried raw materials from Morisset to the factory and the manufactured goods to the train station for delivery to Sydney. By 1902, both were so worn that a 35 foot launch ‘Avondale’ was built for transporting finished product down Dora Creek to the station.
In the very early days in Sydney, one or two men pushed a hand cart up and down the streets with product but by the 1900s it became the job of horses and drays. Sanitarium purchased the first of many large vans in both New Zealand and Australia around 1928. These are fondly remembered for the beautiful artwork on the side and rear panels. In 1934, ‘Big Bertha’, a large Leyland truck that could fill a rail goods wagon with one load was used to make quicker trips by road.
As business improved in the early 1920s, sales representatives were supplied with motor bikes and sidecars. The first Weet-Bix vehicles were ten Chevrolet vans. In the 1930s, most branch managers proudly drove grey Buick cars.
Sanitarium was an early pioneer in the export of foods to international markets, and was making its mark on South-East Asia as early as 1905. The company opened a small warehouse in Clarence St, Sydney – convenient to the wharves. Company records indicate initial shipments to Singapore in 1906, and within a few years sales were being recorded in South Africa, India, China, Malaysia, Burma and throughout the Pacific Islands.
After World War I, Sanitarium moved its warehouse to Sussex St, and local wholesalers began buying its products and exporting them. As the trade developed, Sanitarium appointed local merchants to act as agents in various markets and larger companies to act in broader regions.
In 1935, Sanitarium stationed a representative in Singapore with the title of Manager: Orient, to look after its interests in South-East Asia.
Sanitarium widened its product range and export trade after World War II, expanding into Africa, the Middle East, Mauritius, the Persian Gulf and North America. Today, Sanitarium exports to 42 countries around the world, with China being the largest export market.
Spreading the word: doctors, quiz cards and collector cards
Sanitarium’s approach to advertising has always been guided by the principles of reliability, trustworthiness and good nutrition. In the early years, the best form of promotion for Sanitarium products came via word of mouth recommendations and referrals from chemists and doctors, since the foods were sold on their health benefits.
The very first advertisement for Sanitarium appeared in Melbourne’s The Bible Echo, in 1897. Prior to 1920, most of the advertising conducted by the company was done by local retailers, who would put products on display in their windows.
During his time in Australia, pioneer Adventist Ellen G. White’s son Willie convinced Seventh-day Adventist Edward Halsey, a baker at John Harvey Kellogg’s Battle Creek Sanitarium, to immigrate to Australia. Halsey arrived in Sydney, New South Wales, on 8 November 1897. He rented a small bakery in Melbourne, and produced granola (made of wheat, oats, maize, and rye) and Granose (the unsweetened forerunner to Weet-Bix). His team and he sold it from door to door as an alternative to fat-laden or poor nutritious foods popular at the time. The business relocated to larger premises in Cooranbong, New South Wales, next to the campus of the seminary which became Avondale College. In 1900, Halsey transferred to New Zealand, where he began making the first batches of Granola, New Zealand’s first breakfast cereal, Caramel Cereals (a coffee substitute), and wholemeal bread in a small wooden shed in the Christchurch suburb of Papanui. Sanitarium New Zealand and Sanitarium Australia are now separate companies, but work together.
Sanitarium has factories in places including Berkeley Vale and Cooranbong in New South Wales; Carmel in Perth, Western Australia; Brisbane, Queensland; and Auckland, New Zealand. Weet-Bix was originally manufactured, from 1928, at 659 Parramatta Road, Leichhardt, where until recent times Sanitarium signage could still be seen. This factory antedates the purchase of Weet-Bix by Sanitarium in 1930. A factory was operating in Palmerston North in New Zealand, but closed in the late 1990s. The Hackney factory in Adelaide, South Australia was closed in October 2010.
Charles Watson (1877 – 1962) administrator, Seventh Day Adventist pastor
Charles Watson, administrator and pastor of the Seventh Day Adventist Church, helped to reorganize the Adventist health food operations and developed the successful Sanitarium Health Food Co. He was the only non-American to hold the position of president of the S. D. A. General Conference.
Edward Halsey ( – ) Adventist baker
From a modest rented bakery in Northcote, Victoria, on 28 January 1898, Edward Halsey, a baker, created Sanitarium peanut butter.
Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) Australia
ADRA Australia is a Christian, humanitarian agency that creates opportunities, empowers people and shares hope. http://www.adra.org.au
William Arnott (1827 – 1901) biscuit manufacturer
William Arnott’s success was founded on hard work, integrity and insistence on quality. He was a sincere Christian noted for his lovable and kindly nature. He and his wife were active in philanthropic work and the Wesleyan Church. He was elected a trustee of the church in Maitland; in Newcastle he was connected with the Sunday school for twenty-four years, in twenty of which he was superintendent.
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