Health food companies managed by the Seventh-day Adventist Church often make unsung contributions to the church’s mission, several of their managers recently said. Dozens of these health food executives from around the world met for the 2023 Adventist Health Food Association (AHFA) Conference in Auckland, New Zealand, February 12-17.
The AHFA Conference, the first such in-person event since the pandemic, allowed health food executives to share updates on their physical plant investments, signature and novel products, and outreach programs. Several of them highlighted initiatives that seek not only to convey a message of healthy living but also to increase their market share to continue growing and to fund mission initiatives.
Direct Mission Funding
The connection between the health food companies’ performance and the church’s mission is straightforward.
“God has been very good to us [in 2022],” Grupo ICOLPAN manager Hugo Vega Arrieta from Colombia said. “We can now show a positive balance to support the mission of the church.” Arrieta, who manages three factories across Colombia, explained how outreach activities sponsored by Grupo ICOLPAN connect local communities with the brand but also with the Adventist message.
According to biblical principles, financial contributions to the church organization usually start with 10 percent in tithes. But they rarely stop there. Several food company managers* explained how a voted, set percentage is generally sent to the local church field — usually a union conference or a division — as a pre-established, fixed contribution with no strings attached.
“Our territory’s church organization board has voted the set percentage amount that we send yearly to fund mission,” one CEO reported. “At the same time, we receive specific requests to fund one-time initiatives. We support them as much as possible within our capabilities,” he said.
Another company’s CEO detailed how 20 percent of its annual profits go to fund Adventist education and another 5.5 percent to build churches. Yet another food company shared that 30 percent of its earnings fund Adventist education initiatives and evangelism within its church territory. “All in all,” one manager reported, “we are contributing millions [of US dollars] every year to support the mission of the church.”
One of Argentina’s three Adventist-managed food plants is located in Baradero, two hours from the Granix food company headquarters in Buenos Aires. In that town of 28,500 residents, the plant, which specializes in healthy crackers, has helped to launch and fund Baradero Adventist Institute. In 2023, the K-12 school will hold its first grade-12 graduation ceremony. It is a success story that, with some variations, has been repeated by health-food companies across several continents, other CEOs revealed during the AHFA Conference.
Reaching Out to the Community
Beyond direct and indirect mission funding, community outreach is an area where food companies seem to make a more visible contribution to the name and reach of the Adventist Church. By doing so, they help to improve people’s lives. Health-food companies managed by the church are sponsors of health-promoting events and sports activities for all ages; support health fairs and food banks; engage the public in recycling initiatives; and offer healthy cooking classes, food tasting, and recipe-sharing events.
In Trinidad and Tobago, Caribbean Health Food Company Inc. has donated boxes of cereal to support three communities of Venezuelan refugees now residing in their island nation. At the same time, the company is investing in health and well-being education initiatives. “Our focus is cancer, cholesterol, and diabetes prevention,” company manager Clifford Balgobin reported at the AHFA Conference. “We know that if we keep our customers alive and well, we’ll have customers for life.”
Health Education and Community Assistance
In Australia, Sanitarium Health and Wellbeing Company’s engagement with communities and organizations that support them reveal clear objectives and report record-setting figures. According to company leaders, Sanitarium is committed to “delivering campaigns and resources that aim to make healthy eating easier and reduce the burden of non-communicable disease in the community.”
Working toward that goal, the company has contributed 1.8 million servings of its signature cereal Weet-Bix in 570-gram (about 20-ounce) packages to the Foodbank organization as part of a 12-year sustainable program. Sanitarium has also invested US$200,000 in nutrition education for primary schools across Australia, provided nutrition and health workshops funding, and supported the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) in Australia with 250,000 servings of food for families in need during the 2022 floods.
Sanitarium’s Breakfast Clubs are also changing how many people eat in the morning. In 2021 and 2022, the initiative provided 4.2 million servings for 3,240 breakfast clubs across Australia. In New Zealand, the Kickstart Breakfast Program from Sanitarium, a joint initiative with other organizations and New Zealand’s Ministry of Social Development, has provided 7.5 million servings since its launch in 2009.
Vitality Works, the Sanitarium Workplace Initiative, has touched 592,000 lives, encouraging people to adopt “a permanent lifestyle change” that “feels good inside and out.” Among their clients are now most of the largest and most recognizable companies in Australia, as well as city governments, services, and utility companies, both public and private. The program includes specific initiatives for work safety, such as SafeSpine and SafeMind, which, in the words of one of the companies who adopted them, “has allowed our people to thrive and give their best.”
Environmentally Responsible Initiatives
Other companies include recycling and upcycling (reusing discarded objects to create a product of higher quality or value) programs in their initiatives to connect with customers and promote responsible stewardship principles.
In Argentina, Granix partnered with a plastic lumber company and the Botellas de Amor (Love Bottles) charity to recycle and upcycle their single-use packaging. Thanks to this joint initiative, the discarded wrappers for Granix crackers, cookies, and other products are pushed into plastic bottles, which are then eventually turned into plastic wood beams. These beams are used to build furniture, playground sets, lounge chairs, and decks. “Please join us in this effort toward a more sustainable future,” a company promotional video says.
Overall, Adventist health food companies’ CEOs emphasized how their focus on optimal financial performance and results never obscures the fact that the companies they lead are to support the church’s mission of sharing a message of wholeness. Martín Saldaña, CEO of Productos Unión in Peru, said it clearly. “We have our minds on the market, but our hearts are on mission.”
* Some names have been withheld due to safety or privacy issues.