Just in time for Australia Day, Bega has snapped up the rights to Vegemite and other Kraft branded products, as well as ZoOSh salad dressings and Bonox spreads. But it’s Vegemite that people really care about.
The quintessential Aussie spread was developed in 1922, after imports of UK spread Marmite (Boo! Hiss!) were disrupted due to World War I. Australian company Fred Walker & Co. tasked a young chemist and food technologist, Dr Cyril P Callister, with creating a spread made from brewer’s yeast. And so, Vegemite was born.
It puts a rose in every cheek
Some might be surprised to learn that Vegemite wasn’t an instantaneous success. Others — those who come down on the ‘hate it’ side of “you either love it or hate it” — will be less shocked to know that sales of the yeasty spread took a while to take off. This was mostly due to the fact that Marmite (Boo! Hiss!) already dominated the market.
In 1925, Fred Walker joined forces with Kraft to form The Kraft Walker Cheese Co. In 1935, the company capitalised on the success of that venture by giving away Vegemite with Kraft cheese purchases. This tactic worked and Aussies were finally trying, and preferring, Vegemite.
The giveaways were followed by a limerick competition in 1937, with Pontiac cars as prizes to draw in consumers, and the product was endorsed by the British Medical Association in 1939. And during World War II, the spread was included in the rations of Australian troops. By the 1940s, Vegemite had well and truly earned its place in our hearts and stomachs. Today, 9 out of 10 Australian households contain a jar of Vegemite. We really do “all adore our Vegemite”.
As Aussie as… what?
Of course, it was around the same time that Vegemite became popular that it also got a bit less… Australian. In 1935, after the death of Fred Walker, the US-based Kraft Company acquired a controlling interest, and ownership of the recipe and manufacturing methods for Vegemite.
So, although Vegemite has always been made in Australia (and honestly, why would it be made anywhere else?), it hasn’t been Australian owned for more than 80 years. And it’s not just Vegemite.
So many of our beloved Aussie brands are — gasp — not Australian owned. A recent ABC article detailed a handful of other iconic products that are no longer 100% Australian. The owners of Tim Tams, Shapes and Iced Vovos don’t call Australia home — the US-based Campbell Soup Company owns Arnotts now.
Bushells tea is owned by the British-Dutch company Unilever and Uncle Tobys’ oats are owned by Swiss-based Cereal Partners Worldwide, although they are at least made in Australia.
Swiss company Nestlé owns a whole host of Aussie staples. Some might be saddened to learn that Aussie lollies like Allens’ Snakes and Minties, and the Violet Crumble are part of the Nestlé stable. And don’t turn to ice cream for consolation. Peters is owned by European R & R Ice Cream and Streets’ Buffalo Bill, Paddlepops, and the Golden Gaytime, which is having a bit of a moment, are no more Aussie, as Streets is owned by Unilever. Even Aeroplane Jelly is US-owned now!
It’s a sad state of affairs. Which is why it’s all the more heartening that Vegemite is coming home. So enjoy a piece of Vegemite toast for brekkie, and bask in the knowledge that it’s 100% Aussie once more.