The Vegemite Story
The VEGEMITE brand has a history spanning nearly 90 years. Its story began in 1922 when the Fred Walker Company, which would later become Kraft Food Company, hired a young chemist to develop a spread from one of the richest known natural sources in the Vitamin B group – brewer’s yeast.
After months of laboratory tests, Dr. Cyril P Callister, Australia’s leading food technologist of the 1920s and 30s, developed a tasty, spreadable paste. It was labelled ‘Pure Vegetable Extract’.
The Spread That Could
The Fred Walker Company initiated an ingenious plan; to have the Australian public officially name their spread. A national competition was launched, offering an attractive 50 pound prize pool for finalists. Unfortunately, the name of the winning contestant was not recorded, but it was Fred Walker’s daughter who chose the winning name – VEGEMITE – out of hundreds of entries. In 1923, VEGEMITE spread graced the shelves of grocers Australia wide. “Delicious on sandwiches and toast, and improving the flavours of soups, stews and gravies,” was how the spread was first described and marketed.
The reality was that Marmite, a thick, dark English spread, already dominated the Australian market and Australians were reluctant to even try Fred Walker’s locally made product. Poor sales of VEGEMITE spread resulted in its name being changed in 1928 to ‘Parwill’. Walker was determined to emulate the success of Marmite and the logic behind the re-branding strategy was simple; “If Marmite…then Parwill.”
Walker’s innovative method of marketing was, however, unsuccessful. Parwill failed to gain momentum across the country. It would take Fred Walker 14 years of perseverance and a change back to the original VEGEMITE brand for Australians to embrace what would later become an Australian icon.
In 1937, a limerick competition with substantial prizes – including Pontiac cars – was just the promotion to not only encourage entries, but also sales of VEGEMITE spread nation wide. Following the successful promotion, the VEGEMITE brand gained official product endorsement from the British Medical Association in 1939 and began advertising in the British Medical Journal. Medical professionals and baby care experts were even recommending VEGEMITE spread as a Vitamin B rich, nutritionally balanced food to their patients. By 1942, exactly twenty years after it was first developed, the VEGEMITE brand had become a staple food in every Australian home and in every Australian pantry.
During World War II the Armed Forces were buying VEGEMITE spread in bulk, due to the product’s nutritional value. Fred Walker’s company had to ration VEGEMITE spread on a per capita basis across Australia in order to meet the demand. It’s well known that absence makes the heart grow fonder, and so the reduced supply of that ubiquitous VEGEMITE flavour grew in the hearts of Australians. Once World War II had ended - coupled with the post-war migrant and baby boom – VEGEMITE spread was well and truly a part of Australia’s history – and its heart.
In 1954, a trio of bright, energetic youngsters burst into song on radio to a toe-tapping jingle named ‘Happy Little Vegemites’. Two years later, Kraft Foods developed the infectious song into a television campaign, which continued intermittently through to the late 1960s. For the next decade, Australians were informed through advertising of the nutritional benefits of VEGEMITE spread for people of all ages, and it wasn’t until the dawn of the 1980s when the original ‘Happy Little Vegemites’ commercials, re-mastered and colourised, were broadcast to an entire new generation of Australians who were offered the chance to revel in the VEGEMITE brand’s nostalgia – and have a rose placed in every cheek thanks to what has become Australia’s second, unofficial national anthem. This commercial was brought out again in 2010 to remind Australians of their love for the iconic brand.
There aren’t many products or brands that have been embraced in the same style, or with the same amount of love, as the VEGEMITE brand has been. And there are certainly not many that continue to. The world may be forever evolving but one thing that remains the same is VEGEMITE spread’s relatively unchanged recipe. It’s loved by children, teenagers and adults. It’s still consumed by our troops overseas. It’s carried in the suitcases and backpacks of Australian travellers, as a small reminder, and a small taste, of home.
There’s a reason over 22 million jars of VEGEMITE spread are sold every year and it’s because there’s no other concentrated spread out there so full of Vitamin B and nutrients, so pleasing to the palate and so intrinsically linked with Australia’s past and future as the VEGEMITE brand is.
VEGEMITE spread can be enjoyed in many ways – and is not just limited to toast and crackers. Visit our recipe section to see the varied and versatile ways you can incorporate VEGEMITE spread into your diet.