Vegemite, An Australian national Icon



For true blue Aussies, home is where Vegemite is, but it is altogether a different story for new migrants to Australia. Savouring a little may get wild screams comparing it to rotten dirt. Definitely, it will take some time to get used to the taste of this great Australian icon but for the past 90 years Vegemite is the King that rules the taste buds of Aussies. It is an acquired taste, and this made it difficult to introduce the product to other nations around the world.

This iconic Australian brand shares the podium with Meat pies and lamingtons as far as Aussie psyche is concerned. In 2008 Vegemite sold its 1 Billionth jar, but like most great products it had a humble beginning.

What is  Vegemite ?

Fred Walker and Company used to sell cheese and preserved meet to country areas in the eastern states of Australia. In 1922 Fred Walker directed his company Chemist Cyril P Callister to produce a product like ‘Marmite’, which was distributed by Sanatorium Health Food Company. Marmite was made from a waste product of Beer, yeast extract. Soon an Aussie icon was born. 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. But Fred named the product by a name suggested by his daughter and that was ‘Vegemite’ .

Vegemite Song

Fred Walker used supplies from Carlton Breweries in Melbourne to stimulate Marmite and the first product was on Market in the year 1923. To Fred’s disappointment the sales were poor. In 1928 the name was changed to ‘Parwill’ to rebrand the product. But the sales went a downward spiral. Poor sales figures forced Fred to amalgamate his company with the United States Company Kraft Cheese to form Kraft Walker Cheese Company. It was the American style advertisement campaign initiated by Kraft that saved Fred Walker’s product. Eventually the name was changed back to Vegemite. By 1946, it was being advertised with Walt Disney’s Cartoon figures.

Vegemite brand managed to gain product endorsement from the British Medical Association in 1939. Medical Council recommended it as a nutritionally balanced food rich in Vitamin B. By the 40’s the brand has become a staple food in every Australian home.

During World War 2 most of the production was sent to Armed forces due to its high vitamin content and restrictions were imposed on the civilian sale of the product. Vegemite made good the opportunity with advertisement campaigns like this.

“If you are one of those who don’t need Vegemite medicinally, thousands of invalids and babies are asking you to deny yourself of it for the time being”

After the World War 2 , Vegemite significantly shifted its advertisement campaign to a child centred one. In 1954 a jingle written by J. Walter Thompson advertising, helped raise its popularity even further.

In 1954 the advertisement was this famous jingle

We’re happy little Vegemites, as bright as bright can be,

We all enjoy our Vegemite for breakfast, lunch and tea.

Our Mummy says we’re growing stronger every single week

Because we love our Vegemite, we all adore our Vegemite,

It puts a rose in every cheek.

In 1956 a television adoption of song was released choreographed by Helen De Paul.

Vegemite Taste

Vegemite always claimed its health benefits because of the high Vitamin B content. Dr. Keith Farrer, a renowned Australian Scientist was employed by the Vegemite Company to write up its nutritional values and Keith did a very good job. The health claims made by Vegemite was largely responsible for making it a national icon by the 60’s. Vegemite’s health claims were substantiated by word of mouth and hypothetical reaction by Vegemite addicts. But in 1989 two scientist Mark Leggett and Susan Leggett expressed their scepticism in the ‘Australian Food Report’ about the over exaggerated claims and was critical about the unusually high sodium content in the product. They alleged that feeding yeast with sugar caused a kind of explosion which enacted in the human body, could weaken the immune system and lead to allergies and asthma.

In 2006, American customs and border guards were confiscating Vegemite from Visitors entering USA, because of its high level of folate.

Vegemite’s Status as a National Icon today

During the 1990s, Kraft released a product in Australia known as Vegemite Singles. It combined two of Kraft’s major products into one. The product consisted of Kraft Singles with Vegemite added, thus creating Vegemite-flavoured cheese.

In 2009 Kraft sensed a problem with Vegemite’s sales figures. House hold penetration has dropped from 80 to 72% and the brand failed to make it appealing to new immigrants.

Kraft employed IBM to makes sense about the data from the social networks to know what was being said about Vegemite. IBM analysed around 1.5 Million posts in the social networking sites and found 479,206 mentions of Vegemite in 38 languages. They also found some strange correlations between Vegemite and avocado, tomato, things like roast meats. This resulted in a rethink on Vegemite’s advertisement campaigns. Vegemite focused more on social media for advertising and came up with the slogan, ‘How do you have your Vegemite?’. The new campaign improved Vegemite’s sales figures.

With this data analysis Kraft also found that some people are mixing Vegemite with cream cheese to dilute the taste. This insight has led to the development of a new product. On 13 June 2009, Kraft released a new product which combines Vegemite and Kraft cream cheese, spreads more easily and has a considerably less salty and milder taste than the original. On 16 February 2011, Kraft Foods Australia launched “My First Vegemite”, a special formulation of original Vegemite for children aged older than one year. According to Kraft, the new formula has a “milder taste” and “additional health benefits including iron, B6 and B12 vitamins as well as 50% less sodium”.

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