Sanitarium was founded in 1898 in Melbourne with its background in the Seventh Day Adventist health food movement from the U.S.A’s Battle Creek Sanatorium where the Kellogg brothers (yes, those ones) were creating the first specifically vegetarian “health” products.
The company claims that its “flagship product Weet-Bix is a top seller in the Australian and New Zealand breakfast cereal market”. The sales figures may well speak for themselves, however this is not an accurate statement since Sanitarium did not buy the Weet-Bix brand until 1928 from Leichardt, Sydney company Grain Products Limited. They claim that their early product Granose is a forerunner to it, but the truth is that they developed quite separately – even if they do have their roots in the same religious movement.
Sanitarium’s Betta and Marmite competition, Evening Post, September, 1938
The Weet-Bix story is in fact so complicated it’s going to have to be its own separate post at some point further down the track. It’s a convoluted history that still doesn’t seem entirely clarified; with a great deal of confusion surrounding the origins and history of their most famous product , and who was actually responsible for supposedly “inventing” it. It also doesn’t help that Sanitarium is another one of those “crossover” trans-Tasman brands I’ve written about in the past like Woolworths and Frosty Boy; same brands, fairly separate histories for the most part – in this case although they have the same parent company Sanitarium is split into two – the Australian Health and Nutrition Association Ltd and New Zealand Health Association Ltd.
The Betta jar full of buttons is ‘from the collection of Owaka Museum, Wahi Kahuika, The Meeting Place “a rest on your journey”‘ Object number CT81.1554f. The jar lid below was up for auction a while back.
The actual proponent of Sanitarium products was a man named Edward Halsley who started making Granola, Granose and Caramel Cereal (a coffee substitute). He had learned his trade under the Kelloggs. The company was officially registered as a trademark in 1898 – however by 1900 Sanitarium had transferred him to New Zealand to begin manufacturing its products in a wood shed in Papanui, outside of Christchurch.
From the 1920s Sanitarium opened a chain of Health Food shops in both countries selling their products exclusively – these closed down in the 1980s. Looking at the products over the years it’s really interesting to discover how early Sanitarium started manufacturing Products like vegetarian sausages and burgers and the like – much earlier than you would think, in the mid 1950s in fact – and products like nut meat were being manufactured in the 1920s onwards – I believe Nutolene is still available, amongst others that have been around for nearly 90 years!
This guy’s fourhead scares me. Maybe this is what too many health products do to you. It reminds me of that early 90s movie about the alien family “The Coneheads”.
Products besides Weet-Bix are too numerous to list here, but in New Zealand Marmite (imported until the 1970s, first from Britain then Australia), as well as peanut butter are notable, in particular the “Betta” brand which was introduced in the 1930s and lasted well into the 1960s before reverting to just “Sanitarium” branding . Bottles intact with labels, although usually pretty shabby, come up for auction on a regular basis.
Coffee substitute Kwic-Bru is likely a descendant of one of the very original Sanitarium products mentioned above – “Caramel Cereal”. It appeared in the early 1920s and seemed to be still on sale up until sometime in the 1960s. Both these colour ads are from “Health” magazine in 1940 and were an Ebay Australia purchase.
I’ll come back to Weet-Bix next year with a detailed post.
Addendum Late Nov 2012: This Kwic-Bru container turned up on Ebay Australia a few months back. The seller claims it dates from the 1940s, although I think it’s more likely from the 1950s. It’s likely the design was exactly the same in New Zealand.