How the "Mustard Seed" Grew

EIGHTY YEARS have passed since the messenger of the Lord laid the foundation of our health food work in the year 1895. It was at a public address, in a powerful message, on the first Sunday afternoon of the Victorian camp meeting that Ellen White called the attention of God's people to the necessity for reform and to the great need of warning the world of the intemperance that would prevail to an alarming extent. . .

-general manager of the Sanitarium Health Food Company at the time this article was written

EIGHTY YEARS have passed since the messenger of the Lord laid the foundation of our health food work in the year 1895. It was at a public address, in a powerful message, on the first Sunday afternoon of the Victorian camp meeting that Ellen White called the attention of God's people to the necessity for reform and to the great need of warning the world of the intemperance that would prevail to an alarming extent. The address took in all phases of our work, evangelistic, publishing, and medical missionary aspects, this latter phase including our sanitarium, health food, and restaurant work.

Urging the leaders present to move forward along medical lines, including the manufacture of health foods, Mrs. White stressed educating the people on vegetarian living. Our leaders were motivated to consider seriously beginning this work. Many years earlier God had given clear outlines to Ellen White as to the kind of nutritional program the church should follow, but over the years the response had been disappointing and discouraging.

In Testimonies, volume 7, page 128, we are clearly told that the health food work "is God's gift to His people," and nowhere else has this gift so prospered, or been so helpful to the work of the church generally, as in the Australasian Division. Back in the early days of the work in Australia our educational and publishing work were absorbing a great deal of interest, but it was evident that there was an awakening along health lines. Continual agitation finally brought about the desired result and the establishment of the health pro gram in this part of the world field.

The godly men who were associated with the Lord's messenger here in the Australasian Division took the following action on October 31, 1895, "Resolved that the Executive Committee be urged to take steps to commence such work in the various large cities of these Colonies by the establishment of both houses and depots for the supply of Health Foods, . . . etc., as the way may open." In those days believers were few, cash was hard to obtain, and the program outlined by Ellen White seemed to be a hopeless task. But with great faith, and a firm belief that it was God's will that the practice of healthful living should be part of the wide spectrum of true Christianity, plans were made for health foods to be made available to church members and others who might be interested.

Small Beginnings

In the year 1897 the food company at Battle Creek, Michigan, presented Australia with its first consignment of health foods, about twenty cases in all, consisting mainly of biscuits, granola, gluten, and caramel cereal. These were consigned to the Echo Publishing Company at North Fitzroy, Victoria, as a distribution center, but there was little or no demand for the food except by a few of the employees of the publishing house and some other workers.

It was in the same year the brethren agreed that efforts should be made to manufacture a range of health products in Australia. An early name chosen for the infant enterprise was Sanitarium Health Food Agency. Only a slight change has since been made, for the name we proudly bear today is Sanitarium Health Food Company. A small bakehouse was found in North Fitzroy, Melbourne, where the first real attempt was made to manufacture products, and the registration certificate of this first unit was dated April 27, 1898.

In the first years of operation there was very little to encourage our leaders. At one stage there were even some who felt that because of continuing financial losses it would be best if the work were closed down. Fortunately there were others who were sure that God had given the health food work as a special gift to His people and that He would guide it through all the problems and difficulties that were facing the brethren.

It was in these formative years that the messenger of the Lord, Ellen White, counseled the leaders that this particular aspect of the work should be connected with our educational institutions in order that young people might earn a portion of their educational expenses by labor in the health food work. As a result, the brethren listening to this counsel removed the factory to Avondale, N.S.W., where our Australasian Division college had been established.

Across the Tasman Sea, in the year 1900, the New Zealand phase of the health-food business was be gun at Papanui, Christchurch, in the South Island of the Dominion. While the early history of the health-food department in both countries is one of struggle and sacrifice, it came into existence under the direct counsel of God through His messenger who was in residence in Australia.

Surely the growth of the health-food work in the Australasian Division can be likened to the scriptural mustard seed, "which indeed is the least of all seeds: but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree" (Matt. 13:32).

Best to Follow the Lord

Ellen White told the believers that the work would prosper if taken hold of in earnest, and while the plans that were outlined seemed beyond the powers of our early leaders to attain, because of lack of funds and with no prospect of financial returns, the early committee began its work in faith. Time has proved that a "Thus saith the Lord" is always the best counsel to follow.

On occasions when finances were at a low ebb, and monthly accounts were due for payment, the workers themselves at the daily prayer meeting decided voluntarily to have their wages reduced for a time. With this spirit of sacrifice evident in the hearts of all the workers, the early work was able to survive a very critical period. The Lord greatly honored this sacrificial spirit by increasing the patronage and turnover.

Glimpses of the early struggles can be found in some of the early literature. A typical comment, re minding us of those small beginnings, is found in one account, "We purchased a two-wheeled hand cart, and it was quite a common thing to see A. W. Cormack, E. B. Rudge, L. J. Imrie, and G. S. Fisher pushing this truck along Pitt Street, Sydney, in the early hours of the morning."

The Tide Turns

Slowly the tide turned, and the struggling business began to show small returns and repay its loans, wiping out the accumulated losses that had been incurred. Observing the growth of the business, we believe the sacrifices and faith of our early brethren were not without generous reward, for with the passing of the years this work has grown until it now covers the entire Australasian Division field. Inspired counsel directed that health-food profits should be a financial help to other parts of the work. A special message from Ellen White written to the brethren in 1901 states, "The profits [from these foods] are to be used for the good of suffering humanity everywhere."

The first donation from this source given in support of the work in this field was received in 1906 when an amount of $50 was given for the South Pacific Island Mission program. Since that time a constant and ever broadening flow of money from the health-food department has gone into the Australasian Division treasury. Only Heaven can measure what this has done to strengthen the work in this part of the world field. An indication of what has been done in financially supporting the outreach of the gospel is seen in the fact that during the past five years the company has, from its own earnings, channeled more than seven million dollars into the program of the Australasian Division.

God's Blessing Evident

Our greatest asset is, of course, the 1,700 loyal and dedicated workers who are employed in this enterprise. Their consecrated service under the direction of God is really the secret of our success. At the present time the company operates thirteen factories producing annually in excess of 30,000 tons of health foods. Throughout Australia and New Zealand we have a score of wholesale distribution centers for our foods for retail in all the food stores throughout Australia and New Zealand, and indeed the whole area covering the South Pacific where the Australasian Division operates.

Currently we conduct 71 retail shops, and these are spread over the main cities of both Australia and New Zealand, operating as specialty health-food retail outlets. This operation alone touches the lives of 9 million customers a year and is a powerful witness for the message that makes us the people of the great Second Advent Movement, with a special health message for these last days.

Through press, radio, and television, we are constantly extolling the virtues of healthful living. Demonstrations, health lectures, and printed material distributed throughout the grocery outlets, are used to put our health message across to the people. From the hearts of all workers who have been touched with the message of the great Second Advent Movement there is a daily witness, as opportunity presents itself to tell the world that the return of Jesus Christ is imminent.

The assets of the Sanitarium Health Food Company in the year 1900 stood at £2,307.16.1, but to day the present worth of the company under the blessing of God stands at 24 million dollars. Surely what God has commended no man can put down.


Summarizing the reasons for the establishment of health-food work as they are outlined in special messages given us in the early days, we can point out the following:

  • In volume 7 of the Testimonies, page 132, we are clearly admonished that we must not only teach the people health principles in theory but also, in a practical way, provide natural health-giving foods as cheaply as possible.
  • It is our duty as opportunity offers itself to us in the course of our work to give the message of the everlasting gospel, particularly the third angel's message, to the people we meet.
  • The profits that are earned are to be used for the good of suffering humanity everywhere and will be for the advancement of all departments of the work.
  • To provide employment for our own people, some of whom often have difficulty in getting Sabbath-free employment.

More Than Money Involved

Obviously there is a great deal more to the health-food work in the Australasian Division than the making of money, for we keep constantly before the community a witness to our health message. Many have adopted readily our way of healthful living, for our name and our products have become household words and are found in practically every home. Our church members have access to a wide range of foods that are consistent with denominational health principles, and over the years thousands of Adventists have found employment in the many activities of what is today a large and complex enterprise. Our youth in the church have also had opportunity to earn a college education by finding part-time employment in our health-food factories located near our colleges.

Behind the daily routine of business in dealing with the problems associated with manufacturing, selling, and advertising, we know the Providence of heaven is leading us, and that our heavenly Father guides and directs us every day as we walk in harmony with the clear instruction He has given.

We remind ourselves that the Lord has blessed His people with a wonderful gift. He has thrown the responsibility upon the church to guard the interests of His work, whether it be in prosperity or adversity. In Testimonies, volume 9, page 273, this is made plain, "The work is to be carried forward as the Lord prepares the way. When He brings His people into strait places, it is their privilege to assemble for prayer, remembering that all things come of God."

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-general manager of the Sanitarium Health Food Company at the time this article was written

August 1975

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