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Vegemite on toast
|Invented by||Cyril P. Callister|
|Company||Fred Walker & Co.|
|Current supplier||Mondelēz International|
Vegemite on toast
|Invented by||Cyril P. Callister|
|Company||Fred Walker & Co.|
|Current supplier||Mondelēz International|
Vegemite (// VEJ-ə-myt) is a dark brown Australian food paste made from leftover brewers' yeast extract with various vegetable and spice additives developed by Cyril P. Callister in Melbourne, Victoria in 1922.
A popular spread for sandwiches, toast, crumpets and cracker biscuits as well as a filling for pastries, Vegemite is similar to British, New Zealand and South African Marmite, Australian Promite, Swiss Cenovis and German Hefeextrakt. With the brand now owned by American company Mondelēz International, other Australian-owned spreads have entered the market to provide an alternative, such as the yeast-based AussieMite and Ozemite products.
Vegemite is salty, slightly bitter and malty, and rich in umami – similar to beef bouillon. The texture is smooth and the product is a paste. It is not as intensely flavoured as British Marmite and it is less sweet than the New Zealand version of Marmite.
In 1919, following the disruption of British Marmite imports after World War I and prior to the introduction of Vegemite, Callister's employer, the Australian company Fred Walker & Co., gave him the task of developing a spread from the used yeast being dumped by breweries. Callister had been hired by the chairman Fred Walker. Vegemite was registered as a trademark in Australia that same year. Callister used autolysis to break down the yeast cells from waste obtained from the Carlton & United brewery. Concentrating the clear liquid extract and blending with salt and celery and onion extracts formed a sticky black paste.
Following a nationwide competition with a prize of £50 (2010:$3,527) to find a name for the new spread, the name "Vegemite" was selected out of a hat by Fred Walker's daughter, Sheilah. The winners, local sisters Hilda and Laurel Armstrong (aged 18 and 20 at the time) of Albert Park, Victoria were known as 'The Vegemite Girls' for the rest of their long lives. Vegemite first appeared on the market in 1923 with advertising emphasising the value of Vegemite to children's health but failed to sell very well. Faced with growing competition from Marmite, from 1928 to 1935 the product was renamed as "Parwill" to make use of the advertising slogan "Marmite but Parwill", a convoluted pun on the new name and that of its competitor; "If Ma [mother] might... then Pa [father] will." This attempt to expand market share was unsuccessful and the name was changed back to Vegemite; but did not recover lost market share.
In 1925, Walker had established the Kraft Walker Cheese Co. as a joint venture company with J.L. Kraft & Bros to market processed cheese and, following the failure of Parwill, in 1935 he used the success of Kraft Walker Cheese to promote Vegemite. In a two-year campaign to promote sales, Vegemite was given away free with Kraft Walker cheese products (with a coupon redemption) and this was followed by poetry competitions with imported American Pontiac cars being offered as prizes. Sales responded and in 1939 Vegemite was officially endorsed by the British Medical Association as a rich source of B vitamins. Rationed in Australia during World War II, Vegemite was included in Australian Army rations and by the late 1940s was used in nine out of ten Australian homes.
Vegemite is produced in Australia at Mondelez's Port Melbourne manufacturing facility which produces more than 22 million jars per year. Virtually unchanged from Callister's original recipe, Vegemite now far outsells Marmite and other similar spreads in Australia. The billionth jar of Vegemite was produced in October 2008.
A common method of eating Vegemite is on toasted bread with one layer of butter or margarine before spreading a thin layer of Vegemite. A Vegemite sandwich may consist of two slices of buttered bread, Vegemite and cheese, but other ingredients such as lettuce, avocado and tomato can be added as well.
Vegemite can be used as a filling for pastries, such as the Cheesymite scroll.
Limited quantities of kosher Vegemite were first produced in the 1980s; a 2004 decision to cease production was reversed after a backlash from Jewish consumers. Around 2009, Kraft contracted with the Kashrut Authority in New South Wales for their kashrut supervision services. By 2010, all jars and tubes of ordinary Vegemite were labelled with the authority's stamp.
In 2010, Vegemite received Halal certification. While this was welcomed by Australian Muslims, Kraft was criticised by the Family Council of Victoria, which labelled it as "ridiculous" political correctness. Kraft dismissed such claims as "racist [and] bigoted commentary".
Vegemite is one of the world's richest known sources of B vitamins, specifically thiamine, riboflavin, niacin and folic acid, but unlike Marmite and some other yeast extracts, it contains no vitamin B12. The main ingredient of Vegemite is yeast extract, which contains a high concentration of glutamic acid. Vegemite does not contain any fat, added sugar or animal content. Vegemite contains gluten.
Vegemite contains 3.45% sodium, which equates to a salt content of approximately 8.6%. Australia only defines low salt foods, but by UK standards Vegemite is classified as a high salt content food.
Vegemite contains 2.3% potassium.
Originally promoted as a healthy food for children, during World War II advertising emphasised its medicinal value:
Vegemite fights with the men up north! If you are one of those who don't need Vegemite medicinally, then thousands of invalids are asking you to deny yourself of it for the time being.
At the same time "Sister MacDonald" insisted that Vegemite was essential for "infant welfare" in magazines. Later advertisements began to promote the importance of the B complex vitamins to health.
Vegemite's rise to popularity was helped by the marketing campaigns written by J. Walter Thompson advertising that began in 1954, using groups of smiling, healthy children singing a catchy jingle entitled "We're happy little Vegemites".
First aired on radio in 1954 the jingle was transferred to television in 1956. This advertising campaign continued until the late 1960s but, as they were targeted to children, discontinued in favour of ads promoting the product to all ages. In the late 1980s the original black and white television commercial was remastered, partially colourised and reintroduced. This commercial was to be broadcast periodically from 1991 to 2010. The two young twin girls who sang this advertising jingle were known as the "Vegemite Twins".
In March 2007, Kraft announced that they were trying to trace the eight original children from the campaign to celebrate the advertisement's fiftieth anniversary and to take part in a new campaign. The 1956 commercial was to be remade with the original children, now grown, to forge a link between "the new generation and the old ad". The media took up the search on Kraft's behalf with all eight children identified in eight days and resulted in many TV specials and interviews in the Australian National media. The 50-year reunion campaign won the Arts, Entertainment & Media Campaign of the Year award at the November 2007 Asia Pacific PR Awards.
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. This extension of the Vegemite product line was an attempt by Kraft to capitalise on the enormous popularity of Vegemite and cheese sandwiches (made by placing a slice of cheese into a Vegemite sandwich). Vegemite Singles were later taken off the market.
On 13 June 2009, Kraft released a new version of Vegemite. The formula combines Vegemite and Kraft cream cheese, spreads more easily and has a considerably less salty and milder taste than the original. To coincide with the release of the new recipe, Kraft ran a competition to give the new flavour a name. The new name was announced during the broadcast of the 2009 AFL Grand Final as iSnack 2.0. The name was chosen by a panel of marketing and communication experts to appeal to a younger market, capitalising on the popularity of Apple's iPod and iPhone.
The choice immediately drew universal criticism and ridicule within Australia. Within days, opinion columns and social networking sites were flooded with derision and vitriol. Several critics pointed out that the name is not even original; iSnack is the name of an energy bar manufactured by South African company PVM Products and is the trademark used by Ideal Snacks (iSnack), an American Corn Chip manufacturer. Breville, an Australian appliance maker, trademarked the term iSnack with IP Australia in 2001 for a "cooking apparatus including snack makers and sandwich toasters; parts and accessories in this class for cooking apparatus". The company, however, has yet to manufacture a product using the name.
On 30 September 2009, only four days after the announcement, bowing to significant pressure from consumers, Kraft released plans to abandon the iSnack name, admitting that it may have been a mistake. Kraft's head of corporate affairs, Simon Talbot, stated that "There's a distinct possibility that we'll be critically evaluating the name... the name isn't resonating with success or favour." Two days later, Kraft opened a new poll on its website offering six possible names for the product. These included the three most popular names from the original poll, as well as three others that Kraft considered "worthy of consideration based on consumer feedback". Voters in the poll were able to indicate a seventh option of not liking any of the suggested names. The poll introduction noted that "Cheesymite", a name suggested in the original poll, was already trademarked by other organisations. The final name was announced on 7 October 2009 as "Vegemite Cheesybite", with Kraft claiming that it had received 36% of the 30,357 votes that were cast for a name option, or approximately 10,900 votes. It was later revealed that around 10,000 votes (33%) were registered for the "none of the names" option.
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". Kraft says the new formulation is in direct response to consumer demand for foods with lower sugar and salt content plus additional health benefits. Immediate reaction and media reports regarding the new formula were largely positive, especially compared to the initial reports related to the much-maligned naming of iSnack2.0.
However, Kraft Foods Australia discontinued the "My First Vegemite" product line in 2012 due to poor sales performance.
In October 2006, an Australian news company reported that Vegemite had been banned in the United States, and that the United States Customs Service had gone so far as to search Australians entering the country for Vegemite because it contains folate, a B vitamin approved as an additive in the U.S. for just a few foods, including breakfast cereals. The story appears to have originated as an anecdote by a traveller who claimed to have been searched by U.S. Customs and a spokesperson for Kraft made a misinformed comment to reporters. The story led to some anti-American comments in blogs and newspapers.
The US Food and Drug Administration later stated that there were no plans to subject Vegemite to an import ban, or withdraw it from supermarket shelves. The United States Customs and Border Protection tried to dispel the rumour, stating on its website that "there is no known prohibition on the importation of Vegemite" and "there is no official policy within CBP targeting Vegemite for interception". The story of the "ban" later took on the status of urban legend. While Vegemite has never been popular in the US, it can still be purchased at supermarkets that stock imported food items. However, in September 2011 former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd reported that US Customs officials tried to confiscate his supply of Vegemite as he entered the U.S., but this appears to have been a trivial encounter and not representative of any policy banning its importation into the U.S.
Following newspaper reports in May 2011 that Vegemite and Marmite had been banned and were being removed from shelves in Denmark, outraged fans set up several Facebook groups. In response, Denmark's Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries stated that neither spread had been banned but that the respective companies had not applied for licences to market their products in Denmark. In 2004 Denmark had passed legislation prohibiting the sale of food products fortified with vitamins as a danger to health.
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