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Vegemite on the shelf | © atl10trader / Flickr
Vegemite on the shelf | © atl10trader / Flickr

The History Of Australia's Favourite Spread, Vegemite

Picture of Ellie Griffiths
Updated: 4 December 2016
Spanning back nearly 100 years, Australia’s most well-loved spread has been on quite a culinary journey. We look at the history of VEGEMITE, an incredible and ironic local brand.

Tough Beginnings

Australia’s favourite spreadable paste wasn’t always the favourite. Beginning in 1922, the Fred Walker Company (today known as the Kraft Food Company) hired a young chemist to create a rich spread, high in Vitamin B, that would become a healthy staple in everyone’s cupboards. After several months, Dr Cyril P Callister, Australia’s leading food technologist during the 1920s and 30s, created an edible paste out of brewer’s yeast. To get the Australian public involved, the Fred Walker Company announced a national competition offering an attractive £50 (equivalent to $3,527 AUD in 2010) prize pool for the finalists. Although there is no record of the winner’s name, Fred Walker’s daughter chose the winning name, VEGEMITE, out of a hat.

However, convincing the public that VEGEMITE spread was a healthier option to Marmite, an English spread that had dominated the Aussie market for years, was much harder than originally thought.

Perseverance Pays Out

First seen on the shelves in 1923, VEGEMITE was originally described and marketed as ‘delicious on sandwiches and toast, and improving the flavours of soups, stews and gravies’. Fighting for Aussies to try the new spread, the Fred Walker Company changed the name to ‘Parwill’ in 1928, although after 14 years of perseverance they changed the name back to VEGEMITE.

It wasn’t until 1937 that a competition, featuring prizes such as a Pontiac car, encouraging entries through the sales of VEGEMITE, that this spread became known nationwide. Through this successful promotion, the VEGEMITE Brand received an official product endorsement from the British Medical Association in 1939, and was then advertised in the British Medical Journal. It was from this promotion that medical professionals and baby care experts began to recommend VEGEMITE spread to their patients due to the spread being rich in Vitamin B.

As a result, by 1942, VEGEMITE became a staple food, found in every Australian home.

Absence Makes The Heart Grow Fonder

As VEGEMITE gained popularity nationwide, Armed Forces also began to buy VEGEMITE in bulk during World War II due to the nutritional value of the spread. Although, as a result of huge demand, the spread was rationed across Australia on a per capita basis.

Once the war ended and the baby boom commenced, VEGEMITE had well and truly formed a part of Aussies hearts. As they say ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’.

Happy Little Vegemites

All Aussies know of the iconic, unofficial anthem of our nation, the toe-tapping jingle of Happy Little Vegemites. Originating to a trio of energetic youngsters singing this song on radio in 1954, two years later Kraft Foods turned this song into a TV Campaign that you just have to sing along to.

These iconic commercials were colourised and broadcast to a new generation of Aussies in the 1980s. This anthem still remains today; reminding the nation of their favourite brand, the commercial was brought out once again in 2010.

Attempts To Recreate

The iconic taste of VEGEMITE has become a national favourite and Kraft Foods have tried to recreate the flavor in a number of products. In the 1990s, VEGEMITE Singles combined Kraft Singles (cheese) and VEGEMITE in order to recreate the popular VEGEMITE and cheese sandwiches created throughout the country. However, this was soon taken off the market. With a milder taste My First Vegemite, a special formula suitable for children older than one year, appeared in 2011, however, much like earlier attempts it was soon taken off the market.

In 2009, Cheesybite appeared on the shelves combining VEGEMITE and Kraft cream cheese, providing an easy spread with a less salty and milder taste. The popularity of this cheesy spread has resulted in sales continuing to this day. It wasn’t until 2015’s controversial release of Cadbury’s Caramello block featuring VEGEMITE chocolate, that critics varied from a ‘love it’ to a ‘needs more salt’ perspective, and some even claimed this chocolate left an unpleasant aftertaste.

Despite the numerous attempts, over 22 million jars of VEGEMITE spread are sold every year, and loved by children, teenagers and adults both in Australia and overseas there is with no doubt this is Australia’s most iconic spread.