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Lesson #2: Do Not Be Afraid to Go Against the Grain
Before Kellogg burst onto the scene, the breakfast food industry was bare to say the least. In fact, the entire prepared foods industry was lacking in depth. There were no canned foods and little refrigeration. People also had little knowledge of nutrition. Residents in Kellogg’s home state of Michigan only knew what they were used to: preserved meat and bread that had been baked over their open fires. Grains, vegetables, and fruits were not a common occurrence in diets.
Kellogg wanted to change all of that. He had been brought up in the Seventh Day Adventist church, which believed in healthy living. They regularly avoided the likes of coffee, tea, tobacco, and meat, instead substituting it with bread, fruits, vegetables and lots of water. It was that line of reasoning that inspired Kellogg’s brother to open up his Sanitarium in Battle Creek, to promote healthy living.
The Sanitarium became a place “where people would learn to stay well,” offering both hospital and spa services. Patients were encouraged to exercise, eat vegetarian diets, take cold-water baths, and were even given a dosage of electroshock therapy. Indeed, Kellogg’s brother once said, “If the whole truth were shown, it would appear that the causes of indigestion are responsible for more deaths than all other causes combined.”
Kellogg had been experimenting with dough one night, when he realized that it had broken into flakes instead of forming a flat sheet. He could have thrown it out and started over again, but instead, he decided to make a go of it. It was not the bread he was hoping for, nor was it a breakfast cereal that most people would be used to. But still, he saw promise in it. It was a healthy alternative for breakfast and it tasted great, a surefire recipe for success as Kellogg saw it.
Kellogg took the flakes to his brother to get permission to serve them at the Sanitarium. Initially, his brother was hesitant. “Dr. Kellogg and others did not seem to believe at the time that the business was susceptible of being developed,” said Kellogg. His brother was doubtful that people would want to eat these plain, albeit healthy, flakes of wheat. Even after he agreed, he wanted his younger brother to crush them into little bits. Kellogg stood firm and served the flakes as they were the next morning at the Sanitarium. The flakes were a huge hit, with patients asking for more throughout the day.
At the time, grains were a rare occurrence in diets, and few foods were promoted on the grounds of being healthy and nutritious. But Kellogg wanted to change all of that. He was not afraid to introduce something new to the market, something that people had never seen before. After all, just because people had never known it before did not mean that they would not want it once they did.
Kellogg was not afraid to go against the grain. “I confess at the time I little realized the extent to which the food business might develop in Battle Creek,” he said. Despite underestimating the possibilities, Kellogg still kept his faith that his product would work. He stood up against his brother, he challenged the industry as it was, and he dared to be different.
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