One baker’s tale
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.
The original wheat biscuit
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.
Our first cafe
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.
Feeding Marmite to the troops
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.
Transport back in time
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.
In October 1922, the decision was made to begin placing advertisements in the leading newspapers in capital cities and some of the larger towns around the country. The first official campaign began later that year. By the mid 1920s, the Sanitarium name had become a well-recognised part of the commercial world.
The new medium of radio was explored during the 1920s and 1930s. Various programs including ‘Quiz of Quizzers’ and Queenie Ashton’s ‘Kommonsense Kitchen Klub’ were sponsored by Sanitarium at this time. Late in 1930, Sanitarium moved into gift-coupons, which were a popular advertising strategy of the day. The practice of inserting collector cards in boxes of Sanitarium Weet-Bix began in 1942, and continues today.
From the mid-forties onwards, Sanitarium’s advertising campaigns began to address the changing nature of the Australian breakfast. During the 1960s and 1970s, Joan Bateman presented a weekly ‘Taste for Food’ TV segment which demonstrated vegetarian cooking techniques using Sanitarium products. Television advertisements for Sanitarium products began appearing from the early 1960s. One of the earliest advertisements was for its Honey Weets breakfast cereal.
Aussie kids are Weet-Bix kids
Of all the Sanitarium advertising campaigns, there is one that has captured the hearts of minds of Australians like no other. In 1985, Sanitarium launched the ‘Aussie kids are Weet-Bix kids’ jingle, and it quickly cemented its place as the breakfast anthem for generations of families.
Millions of Ausssies are proud to call themselves Weet-Bix kids – wearing the title like a badge of honour, a quintessential expression of what it means to be Australian. Many of the nation’s most famous faces are too, with soccer sensation Tim Cahill and surfing superstar Stephanie Gilmore among the big names who embody the spirit of the much-loved breakfast cereal.
In 2016, Sanitarium announced a celebrity-lead search for a fresh new sound for the iconic jingle, with the likes of Australian songstress Kate Ceberano, country music star Troy Cassar-Daly and the Sydney Children’s Choir responding to the call.
Changing breakfast habits
While the benefits of a nutritious breakfast were well established, by the early 1990s the pace of modern life saw a new trend taking hold – breakfast skipping. With many families shuffling out the door not long after their eyes had opened, the nutritionists and food scientists at Sanitarium had a bright idea. In 1997, in a world-first innovation, UP&GO™ was launched.
UP&GO was designed as a convenient and nutritious liquid breakfast option that packs in essential protein, energy, fibre, vitamins and minerals that busy people need to power through their morning, making it a far better option than no breakfast or take-away on the way to work or school.
Fast forward to today and life hasn’t slowed down - in fact, it’s even faster - and UP&GO is rivalled only by Weet-Bix in being the top selling product in the breakfast aisle.
Going Gluten free
In 2014, Sanitarium did what sounds like the impossible. It introduced Weet-Bix without wheat. When word got out, consumers were excited. Thousands of Australians who were either unable to consume gluten or who chose to reduce gluten intake were able to return to their favourite Australian breakfast – a bowl of Weet-Bix.
Within the first month of its launch, more than 130,000 people had purchased a box of Gluten Free Weet-Bix, with more than a third returning for a second box. Gluten Free Weet-Bix continued to sell well throughout its first year, with more than 21 million serves enjoyed by Aussie consumers, making it one of the most successful launches of a new grocery product in decades.
This innovative new product became a reality in a matter of months and included an incredible overhaul of Sanitarium’s factory in Carmel, Western Australia to an entirely gluten-free facility in a matter of days.
Still Australia’s most trusted brand at breakfast
Trust. Hard won, yet easily lost. In 2019, Weet-Bix was again voted Most Trusted Breakfast Food in the Reader's Digest Most Trusted Brands survey. It was the seventh consecutive year the iconic Sanitarium brand had won the highly coveted title.
While the win reaffirmed Australia’s love of the original wheat biscuits, it is testament to the founding philosophies of Sanitarium and its unwavering commitment to three key principles when it comes to food – healthy, affordable, accessible – that Weet-Bix retains the trust of Australian families looking for the best start to their day and is more popular than ever.