Its dark, unappetizing appearance horrified the world and confused the new migrants.
Some called it an acquired taste; this black sticky ugly duckling deserves a chance to shine. Open your heart and let the spread of Vegemite on toast stimulates your unexcited taste buds and surprises you with a tantalizing culinary adventure you never dare imagined. Who knows, this bold step might change your morning breakfast ritual forever, and might even successfully hypnotize you to do the unthinkable: bidding farewell to your boring peanut butter and cranberry jam!
Some grimaced in disgust and pronounced it a pet hate. Why would anyone allow his tongue and its pathetic nerves to be repeatedly assaulted by this weird salty junk is incomprehensible.
Yet, it is this same mysterious spread that has captured the hearts of millions of Australians, and continuously blackens the bread and crackers on the breakfast tables of Melbournians and its neighboring states. Creative recipes are invented, inviting the audacious Australians to throw a few spoonsful of this distinctive ingredient into their pasta, burger, pizza and stew.
1. Genesis: the invention of Vegemite
The story of Vegemite began in 1922 in a young chemist’s laboratory in Australia. The mission was a daunting one: a tasty, spreadable paste was to be developed using unwanted brewer’s yeast, to replace the much beloved British Marmite (the import of which was disrupted at that time as a result of World War 1).
The British despises the Vegemite and sees it as nothing more than a failed copycat attempt of their national pride: the rich, dense, and dark-brown Marmite spread. The Australians love Vegemite and are proud of the supremely improvised version of yeast spread.
The battle between Marmite and Vegemite continues with two clearly defined allegiances or sides taken, like an endless Tug-o-War between two siblings that have frequently being mistaken as identical twins.
2. Vegemite: the origin of the name
The Fred Walker Company devised an ingenious marketing plan: to have the Australians involved in naming this new invention. A national contest was organized and the cheeky name “Vegemite” was chosen (much to the annoyance of the Marmite fans).
Yet the true creator of the name “Vegemite” is as obscure as the secret recipe of this funky spread. Some sources suggested that the winner of the contest was the Melbourne sisters Hilda and Laurel Armstrong; some said the name was randomly drew from a hat by Fred Walker’s daughter, Sheilah. However, there was also rumour that it was Fred Walker’s 7-year-old daughter who invented the name on the spot, when an inspiration hit her while she was sorting through the competition entries with her dad.
In 1923, approximately one year after the young chemist shouted his joyful “Eureka” in the laboratory, the Vegemite labeled jars graced the grocery shelves of Australia, and embarked its new journey involving numerous popularity challenges and marketing experiments.
3. Parwill: the switch of name
The journey was tough and depressing. From 1928 to 1935, the Vegemite label was scrapped away and replaced by the corny name “Parwill”, a mischievous advertising stunt playing with the name of its dominating rival Marmite; “If Ma (mother) might, then Pa (father) will”.
The marketing attempt was a flop. The slogan did not trigger nor gain any market momentum, and there was no sudden switch to the masculine, locally made “Parwill” as anticipated. The name was eventually changed back to the original “Vegemite”.
4. Everyone needs Vitamin B
Aggressive marketing campaign spread across Australia. Limerick competition with attractive prizes was organized. Vegemite’s redemption coupons were given away free with Kraft Walker cheese products.
Sales responded positively. A few years later, Vegemite was endorsed by the British Medical Association in 1939 as one of the richest sources of Vitamin B, and was recommended by medical professionals and baby care experts as an excellent supplement for a nutritionally balanced diet. World War II came, and Vegemite gained its fame further as a rationed product due to the immense demand. Armed Forces bought Vegemite in bulk, and by the late 1940s, Vegemite has become an irreplaceable staple food appearing in 9 out of 10 Australian households.
5. A “made in Melbourne only” product
Vegemite is a “made in Melbourne only” product. This much beloved product is manufactured at Mondelez’s Port Melbourne’s factory, meeting the worldwide demand of 22 million jars per year. The Australians continue to embrace Vegemite in love and fondness. The fact that it is now owned by the US company Kraft Foods does not change the status of Vegemite being the Australian iconic brand, a product that continues to please the palate of children and adults with its unchanged recipe.