Acquired taste: Australia toasts return of national spread Vegemite to local ownership
Vegemite, the salty yeast-based spread beloved by Australians, is returning Down Under after decades of US ownership.
An acquired taste for the foreign palate, Vegemite on toast is a staple found on most Australian breakfast tables, and its fans range from prime ministers to celebrity chefs.
Cheese maker Bega announced the A$460 million (US$346 million) purchase on Thursday of most of US-based Mondelez International’s Australia and New Zealand grocery business, which includes the tarry sandwich filling.
Barry Irvin, Bega’s executive chairman, noted “the wonderful heritage and values that Vegemite represents and its importance to Australian culture”, in a statement to the Australian Stock Exchange.
The sticky spread, which was invented to rival Britain’s Marmite, first hit the shelves in 1923 and during World War II was rationed for civilians due to overwhelming demand from the military.
Today, the yeast extract made from beer brewing by-product, sells on average close to one jar per Australian each year, about 23 million.
Developed by the Fred Walker Company, Vegemite was acquired after the war by Kraft which in 2012 split in two forming Mondelez International.
Despite being owned by a US outfit, Vegemite has continued to be produced in Melbourne.
The National Museum of Australia says the spread “provides a connection back to seemingly simpler times and is symbolic of the reverence for the ordinary in Australian culture.”
Former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd tapped into this nostalgia declaring himself during the 2007 election campaign “toast-and-Vegemite sort of guy”.
But even haute cuisine has got in on the act, with celebrity British chef Heston Blumenthal putting an experimental Vegemite-inspired ice cream on his menu for an Australia Day lunch next week in Melbourne.
“The highlight is sure to be the new VEGEMITE ® Ice Cream, a dessert featuring Australia’s favourite spread accompanied with a biscuit base, yeast salted caramel, barley chocolate Ganache and verjuice curd,” a promotion for the A$270 four-course lunch reads.