1938 First Blackmores health food store

Image: Blackmores

Blackmores, makers of a range of dietary supplements, used to claim that their founder, Maurice Blackmore, opened Australia’s first health food store in Brisbane in 1938. They have since amended that claim to “one of the first”. Blackmore developed a  system of healthcare based on naturopathic principles and established the first naturopathic colleges and associations in the country.

In fact, the Blackmores store came some decades later than the first health food store established by Sanitarium in Maitland in 1899. However, while Sanitarium sold nut and grain-based foods, Blackmore began the interest in supplements like herbal medicines and minerals.

Maurice Blackmore was an English immigrant who set up his business in Brisbane in 1932. His first store opened in 1938.  The business was a family company until 1962 when it was registered as a private company,  Blackmores Naturopathic Organisation Pty Limited.

In the 1930s there was increasing understanding of and interest in vitamins (the term dates to 1912 when Dr Casimir Funk coined the word “vitamines”).  Scientists were able to isolate the factors in certain foods that were vital in preventing disease. The first to be discovered was vitamin A, followed by vitamins B, B1 and C. Swiss researchers were able to synthesise vitamin C in 1935 and their first vitamin pill was marked under the name Redoxon. Over the following decades, more progress was made in the synthesis of vitamins.

Blackmores was to become Australia’s largest manufacturer of vitamins and other supplements. The company encountered a setback in the mid-1980s when questions began to be raised about the efficacy of vitamins.  A Four Corners program on the ABC was followed by a CHOICE magazine article advocating a balanced diet rather than relying on supplements.  The damage was not permanent. In 1985 Blackmores changed its name again to Blackmores Laboratories Limited, was converted to a public company and listed on the stock exchange.

According to Roy Morgan Research, the number of Australians who purchase vitamins, minerals and/or supplements in an average six months increased from just under 8 million in 2014 to over 8.3 million in 2018. However, as a proportion of Australia’s growing population, demand dropped slightly from 41.2% in 2014 to 40.7% in 2018.

Women are still comfortably the largest purchasers of vitamins, with just under half of all Australian women (49.1%) having purchased vitamins, minerals and/or supplements in an average six-month period, compared to 32% of men.

The demographic for which vitamins, minerals and supplements are purchased at the highest rate are women aged 35-49 (59%), followed by women aged 50-64 (53%), while men under 25 are the least likely demographic to buy vitamins, minerals and/or supplements at only 16%.

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