What’s a word worth? Irrewarra’s granola trademark battle.

In 2005, our founders Bronwynne Roberts and John Calvert received a very formal letter from Sanitarium, a charitable company owned by the Seventh-day Adventist Church and makers of Weet-Bix. It said: “Stop using the word granola, or we will sue you for breach of trademark!”

Irrewarra founders John and Bronwynne Calvert.

Shocked, they thought, “How could Sanitarium own the name of a breakfast cereal used all over the world?” It was the everyday name of an American baked muesli, invented in the 1970s in the USA, but now available across the globe.

What they discovered was that the word granola was invented and trademarked by Dr Kellogg (also a Seventh-day Adventist) in the late 1800s, for an instant porridge cereal, before being trademarked by Sanitarium in 1924 in Australia. The trademark had lapsed in America, but Sanitarium continued to own it “down under”. Despite the global evolution of the word, Sanitarium kept a tight grip on its use in Australia, preventing numerous businesses, cafés, and bakeries from using it.

Founder Bronwynne Roberts recalls:

“Of course, we obtained legal advice – who wouldn’t when you receive a letter from Sanitarium! To make sure we used the word granola as a generic word, and not as a trademark, we made it clear on our packaging to describe our granola as “all natural handmade granola”, with a lowercase “g”. We let Sanitarium know we intended to continue to use the word and heard nothing more.” 

Fast forward to 2010, when Irrewarra again caught the eye of Sanitarium. By then, Irrewarra Granola was the best-selling cereal in Woolworths’ Thomas Dux Grocer chain across Sydney and Melbourne, and Australians were loving our crunchy artisan granola.

Another letter from Sanitarium arrived, this time by email. 

Bronwynne and John had previously been lawyers in top commercial law firms, so the couple decided they would not cave to the demand, but stand up for their popular and growing breakfast cereal.

Unfortunately for Irrewarra, the matter was considered a test case by Sanitarium, as by then we were the leading artisan granola producer in the market. Most other businesses had changed the name of their product to “toasted muesli” under the pressure!

Federal Court proceedings commenced against Irrewarra and its founders personally, and it was a gruelling and expensive two years to follow. Jill Dupleix, Australian food writer and critic, was engaged by the founders to give expert evidence of the widespread use and production of granola. 

Irrewarra’s crunchy all-natural granola.

The latest evolution of Irrewarra Granola, now with 100% recyclable packaging.

Finally, the day of reckoning arrived and Her Honour, then Federal Court Justice Jayne Jagot, now of the High Court, commenced hearing the case, which ran for a week.

The decision, handed down only a week later, found there was no breach of the Sanitarium trademark “Granola”, but simply the use of what was the generic name of a very popular breakfast cereal. Irrewarra had not used the word as a trademark, but simply used it to describe their breakfast cereal.

It was a sweet victory for John and Bronwynne, and Irrewarra! 

Irrewarra granola is now sold Australia-wide and can be found in the cereal aisles of Australia’s two big supermarket retailers, Coles and Woolworths, and in fine and fresh-food retailers. 

It was a hard-fought battle for our founders, but it has allowed bakeries and breakfast cereal producers across Australia to also make granola and call it granola too! 

Shop the Irrewarra Granola range. 

Read more about the landmark court decision here.