Sharing the Hope
The Sanitarium Story
Producer of Australia’s and New Zealand’s number-one breakfast cereal—Weet-Bix—as well as other cereal products, beverages, and spreads, Sanitarium Health and Wellbeing is known internationally for its healthful vegetarian foods. From its humble beginning in 1898 in Melbourne, Australia, when baker Edward Halsey produced Australia’s first ready-to-eat breakfast cereal and sold it door to door, Sanitarium has grown into a 1,700-employee organization with four manufacturing plants in Australia and two in New Zealand.
What may not be as widely recognized, however, is the company’s commitment to community and its vision to “lead, inspire and resource the genuine experience of happy, healthy living” among those in their region and beyond. The South Pacific Division’s (SPD) Health Food Department, which includes Sanitarium, encompasses the mission of providing “hope for a better life” wholistically through a variety of endeavors that include a health and well-being clinic called Sanctuary, a vegetarian café, breakfast programs for children, an annual triathlon for kids, health services for workplace environments, a lifestyle-intervention program, environment-sustainability initiatives, and support for community projects overseas.
Strategically situated on Darling Harbour in Pyrmont, New South Wales, Sanctuary’s team of 16 practitioners, specialists, and support staff help to meet the needs of the whole person. Its team comprises three family physicians, a physiotherapist, a clinical psychologist, a podiatrist, an exercise physiologist, a dietitian, a pastoral counselor, and massage therapists, among others. These health-care professionals focus on acute medical problems, chronic and complex illnesses, women’s health, minor surgeries, pediatrics, emotional health, meaning and purpose, spiritual health, nutrition, and health education.
Sanctuary was established in 2010, and Cathy McDonald, general manager of Sanitarium’s Health and Wellbeing Services, describes it as successful and still growing.
“This particular Sanctuary is our first one, but we intend to eventually expand to 15 to 20 across Australia and New Zealand,” McDonald explains. “The idea for Sanctuary was consistent with the concept expressed in John 10:10: ‘I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly’; as well as advice that Ellen White wrote to Sanitarium. She suggested opening small ‘centers of influence’1 in the cities that would ‘let our light shine forth’2 and open a ‘door of hope.’3 She talks about running cooking classes, and having doctors available, and providing massage and the like. Sanctuary was modeled on her counsel.”
Catering to the breakfast and lunch crowd in the heart of downtown Brisbane, Kitchen offers a host of healthful vegetarian options. The organic, locally produced, and expertly prepared meals draw in the growing number of Australians—particularly younger adults—who increasingly care about health and the environment, but the friendly service also keeps them coming back.
“We make a point of remembering people’s names. It’s part of our philosophy,” says café manager Anca Popovac´au. “We also remember what our regular customers always get. It means a lot to them.”
Popovac´au has high praise for her 12-member staff, including chef Steve Warden-Hutton, who has cooked for Kitchen for five years.
“Steve is incredibly talented,” she says. “The dishes he creates really bring to life the diversity and flavors that whole foods offer. Our customers love the food.”
A 26 percent increase in customers served in 2012 compared to the previous year supports Popovac´au’s appraisals, together with a 92 percent approval rating on UrbanSpoon, an online restaurant-review community.
Vegetarian cafés are not a new concept for Sanitarium. It opened its first one in 1902, followed by several others throughout Australia and New Zealand. By the 1980s, market changes resulted in Sanitarium closing its cafés and retail stores, so today’s Kitchen is a new twist on an “old” model.
The revised concept first took root in 2000, when Sanitarium’s management team, led by CEO Kevin Jackson, sat down and asked themselves, “Where do we go with this organization? What’s the future look like, and how do we enlist people on that journey?”
“We went back and looked into our church history—where we came from, what we’re about, why Ellen White said the things that she said,” notes Jackson. “From there we drew inspiration for the future of where we’re going and developed our philosophies. So we’re staying true to who we are and what we’re about rather than just ‘What’s trendy now?’ The nice thing about that, however, is that our health philosophies are actually what’s trendy now.”
Kitchen unabashedly proclaims its link to a Seventh-day Adventist heritage and the health principles espoused by church cofounder Ellen White on its menu and a large placard prominently placed in the café.
Good Start Breakfast Clubs
Studies indicate that one in four children in Australia regularly miss breakfast, a number that rises in disadvantaged regions. This situation is not unique to the South Pacific; nevertheless, Sanitarium began partnering with the Australian Red Cross to effect positive change. The result was Good Start Breakfast Clubs, through which Sanitarium has so far donated 4.7 million servings of cereal and soymilk products. Each school day some 1,200 volunteers provide breakfast to 5,000 children living in areas of greatest need and help raise awareness of the important role good nutrition plays in a student’s academic performance.
“The Red Cross brought the need to our attention about 10 years ago,” Julie Praestiin, Sanitarium’s corporate communications manager, says. “Kids were going to school without breakfast, and our response was ‘We can’t have that in Australia.’ The program has grown to serving 750,000 meals a year, and now we’re pulling in the communities to help sustain it.”
Sanitarium operates a similar program in New Zealand called KickStart, serving about 2.7 million breakfasts a year.
Sanitarium Weet-Bix Kids TRYathlon
For more than 20 years Sanitarium’s TRYathlon series has promoted physical activities for kids ages 7-15 in order to combat growing health concerns such as childhood obesity and diabetes, as well as to build in them confidence and a “can-do” attitude.
TRYathlon events are held between January and June in 11 locations in Australia and 13 in New Zealand. In 2013, the Trans-Tasman event broke a world record when more than 36,500 children swam, rode, and ran through the series.
“Obesity and inactivity continue to be big problems for Aussie kids,” says TRYathlon national ambassador Brett Lee. “I believe that getting kids engaged in exercise where they are rewarded for participating . . . is part of the solution.”
Vitality Works: Sanitarium Workplace Health
Vitality Works helps organizations and industries such as schools, media companies, legal firms, product manufacturers, the mining industry, and others throughout Australia and New Zealand to put together a portfolio of health and well-being interventions to improve the health of their workers and lower medical costs for the firms. And the results are measurable.
“We do personal health checks at the beginning so the workers understand what the issues are, and then we provide tailored, customized programs,” McDonald says. “The initiative has been very successful, and we started it only three years ago.
“Vitality Works takes our philosophy to busy people and makes it practical and useful for them in those workplaces,” she adds. “We now have a national footprint and can access some of the most remote areas of Australia.”
The successful and effective lifestyle intervention curriculum Hans Diehl of California, United States, developed in 1988 and named Coronary Health Improvement Program (CHIP) has been acquired by the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the SPD, in addition to the Lifestyle Medicine Institute (LMI), also established by Hans Diehl. CHIP, now renamed the Complete Health Improvement Program for its role in preventing, arresting, and reversing chronic disease, has been relaunched with the assistance of Sanitarium Health and Wellbeing Company management. LMI remains the custodian and program provider.
“It’s a partnership between not just LMI and the Adventist Church, but also other entities that provide significant assistance, such as Signs Publishing Company, Adventist Media Network, and the local churches that offer the program to their communities,” says Anja Sussmann, LMI’s medical services development manager. “Our part is to provide the business, marketing, and nutritional know-how to redevelop the program.”
Along with a new look for its professionally produced materials, there is also an increased emphasis on the latest science that supports CHIP’s health-enhanced outcomes.
“CHIP study results have been documented and accepted for publication in such prestigious peer-review publications as the American Journal of Cardiology, The British Medical Journal Open, and others,” Sussmann says. “They’re reporting significant reductions in chronic disease risk factors as well as in health-care costs within a relatively short time period.
Diehl continues to be involved as a key CHIP presenter in the United States, Australia, and New Zealand, along with new presenters Darren Morton, who holds a Ph.D. in exercise physiology, and Andrea Avery, M.D., an internal medicine physician and a professor of medicine at the University of California.
More Than Just Us
Sanitarium’s view of caring for the world around us as “a created gift” influences the way it does business. In 2006 it implemented an environmental management system to mitigate risk and identify eco-efficiency opportunities. It also minimizes the environmental impact of its packaging, has committed to Zero Packaging Waste to Landfill by 2015, has switched to using cleaner energy sources, and works toward reducing CO2 emissions. Kitchen Sanitarium was awarded Green Table Australia certification in July 2011 for minimizing its impact on the environment and using locally produced, organic, and humanely raised products whenever possible. Sanitarium foods are also free of genetic modifications.
The organization gives back to overseas communities as well through ADRA Australia in regions such as Cambodia and Thailand, where they help with disaster relief, education, and child-care programs.
“We’ve developed a deliberate approach of connecting with people, of making our message relevant and appropriate,” Praestiin says. “We go out there with the people rather than box ourselves up. We tell them, ‘This is who we are, what we’re about’—and we hope they join with us and take a journey to truly experience healthy, happy living.”
1 Ellen G. White, The Health Food Ministry (Washington, D.C.: Ellen G. White Publications, 1970), pp. 12, 15.
2 Ibid., p. 89.
3 Ibid., p. 56.
Sandra Blackmer is an assistant editor of Adventist World.