SA Natural Products is one of the country's most successful companies in the field of health product marketing and distribution. With product ranges drawn from all quarters of the world, SANP is responsible for bringing top quality herbal and homeopathtic remedies, gluten-free foods, tea tree bodycare and nutritional supplements to the South African health consumer. And the SANP success story is also that of a family that found itself drawn onto the path to natural healing; one that it has embraced with a personal and professional passion and a commitment to excellence and quality.
The story began with a healing crisis for Irma Schutte. Life had felt uncomplicated on the family farm on the edge of the Valley of a 1 000 Hills. There were five growing children, animals and the occasional crop of vegetables to care for. Head of the family, Louis, had his hands full running a local textile company. But then, in the early 1980s, Irma's health failed her. As she recalls: "An operation I had for a growth on the thyroid went disastrously wrong, and my heart was affected. I lost the use of my vocal chords and from being a vital and active, young woman, I was reduced to a terrified person, gasping for air. The surgeon's view however was that his operation was a success and I was a hypochondriac!"
Left to her own devices, Irma began a personal quest for recovery and healing. She encountered her first homoeopath who prescribed a remedy and changed Irma's diet. At first she did not feel any better, although following strictly the diet of vegetables (raw and steamed), brown rice, a little fruit, and lots of water. Ten days into the treatment, she went through a healing crisis of fever, nausea and weakness. But from then on, every day was better as her strength returned.
To her amazement, her voice also improved - which, according to an ENT specialist she saw later, it should not have done: her right vocal chord had been severed during the thyroid operation. Irma says: "When I told him I was taking homoeopathic remedies and nothing else, he said that it would have been impossible to produce a sound without having had speech therapy..." Irma still can’t sing but she can speak - and would later go on to use her voice to reach people who had had similar experiences and could benefit from natural medicine.
But more health crises were ahead. After recovering the use of her voice, Irma succumbed to a kidney ailment that took her back into hospital. This time she got through with the help of a yeast tonic called Bio-Strath Elixir that her homoeopath brought her. Little did Irma know that she would one day bring this wholesome supplement to the people of South Africa. Another encounter with hospitals and doctors came three years later when an injection to relieve muscle spasm in her back caused a painful inflammation of the spine that lasted six months. The back problem was finally treated by a chiropractor - and Irma's confidence in the power of alternative medicine (as these modalities were known at that time) was sealed.
While living with her inflamed spine, Irma started to use A. Vogel’s Dormeasan Herbal sleeping and stress relief drops and was very impressed with the rapid relief they provided her. Once again, her thoughts turned to the countless people in similar situations - in pain and feeling hopeless: who and where could they turn to? And so the idea of taking an active part in bringing natural medicine to others was born. Irma introduced herself to the Bioforce company in Johannesburg who imported A. Vogel products. She left with an armful of Alfred Vogel’s books to read, and six weeks later was back on their doorstep, determined to become involved in spreading the A. Vogel message that nature was good.
The next chapter in the SANP story is that of a family adjusting to a mother who had begun talking a different language: that of health awareness and being well; that of eating and thinking differently to stay well; that of a passion to be of service to others through healing. In 1988, Irma opened Food For Thought in Hillcrest, outside Durban, a health shop that was to acquire a reputation as one of the best in the country. It was an ideal place to connect people with all things natural, organic and wholesome. Talks to interested groups started; magazine articles and radio interviews followed - all bearing the mesage: “Nature is good”. The message took root in the Schutte family with the older daughters helping in the store and dad, Louis, moving from textiles to health foods.
A momentous decision was then made one Sunday afternoon in the family kitchen: to launch a family business that would handle health product and natural medicine wholesaling as well as keep the retail outlet going. Given the name Natal Natural Products, it aimed to offer a service of excellence rooted in the Schutte's shared conviction in the rightness of their choice.
Things started small in a farm cottage with a few boxes of goods; parcels being packed in the kitchen. Louis collected, delivered, took orders. The daughers - Estie, Marie, Irmatjie and Naomi - answered the phone, packed boxes and wrote invoices. Irma kept the Food For Thought flag flying - and talked more and more to anyone who wanted to change their lives through natural medicine.
In 1991, Irma and Estie visited Switzerland to introduce themselves to the Bioforce head office in Switzerland - and had the chance of a lifetime to meet Alfred Vogel at his home in Basel. Says Irma: "We both experienced that afternoon as life changing!" Today, the Schutte family - SA Natural Products - is the proud owner of Bioforce SA (Pty) Ltd, working side-by-side with the Bioforce International group to bring Vogel’s message of the healing power of nature to the world.
In 1995, a visit to Australia procured the South African distribution rights for Thursday Plantation Tea Tree products. At present this is the leading range of medicinal quality tea tree products in South Africa.
In 1997, the Schuttes met Dutch sculptor and health enthusiast Marcus Rohrer who introduced them to his brand of spirulina. Taken under the wing of SANP, it became a household name in South Africa. In 2002 it was relinquished to a breakaway group of shareholders. Another range that made the grade into the SANP stable in 1998 was Orgran, the top Australian line of wheat and gluten-free products.
In 2000, they brought another product onto the local market - Dr Stanley Jacob's well researched MSM, known in this country as THRESHhold Real MSM. As Estie Schreiber, now marketing director for SANP, says: "It was a product that met our requirements of quality, integrity and research to back up its claims. And this was confirmed for us when we met Dr Jacob in person five years later."
In 2002, SANP visited Zurich to meet the Pestalozzi family - manufacturers of Bio-Strath Elixir - and this quality food supplement became the newest member of the Schutte's 'health family'. Since then, the product's unit sales in SA have increased 40-fold - and the SANP vision is to make it the first choice for South African families as a complete natural tonic.
The Living Naturally message is heard on radio, seen on TV and read about in magazines and newspapers. And A. Vogel, Bio-Strath, THRESHhold, Thursday Plantation Tea Tree and Orgran products are available in most pharmacies and health food stores.
Much has changed for the Schuttes since that distant Sunday in the kitchen when they decided to start Natal Natural Products. It grew into S.A. Natural Products (Pty) Ltd as the business became national; offices in all the major centres and a busy distribution network serve the public of South Africa; and the large staff are helped to feel part of a team that can make a difference to the country's health.