Vegemite deal makes it truly Australian

Vegemite.
Vegemite.

MELBOURNE (Australia) • Next to kangaroos and more dangerous animals, perhaps nothing else evokes Australian stereotypes like Vegemite. The yeasty spread, beloved here and virtually nowhere else, is considered such a national nosh that some people say it is a must-eat on Australia Day.

But in a truth as bitter to some as its taste, Vegemite has for decades been United States-owned - until now.

This month, Mondelez, the Illinois company that owns Vegemite, said it would sell the spread to Bega Cheese, an Australian dairy company, among other brands for nearly US$350 million (S$499 million).

The news was greeted with approval in Australia, where Vegemite is made and where almost all of it is consumed.

For many, the deal simply makes official Vegemite's status as uniquely Australian. Already the country's residents consume 22 million jars a year, even as many acknowledge it can be an acquired taste.

Actor Hugh Jackman, an Australian, once compared it with something scraped off the floor of a gas station.

Its status sometimes puts the brand in political crosshairs. Vegemite has been among brands criticised by some Australian politicians who are pushing for the country to keep out Muslims.

Its label declares that Vegemite is halal, meaning it meets Muslim religious standards.

In an interview, Mr Barry Irvin, executive chairman of Bega Cheese, said his company had no plans to remove the halal designation, noting that the product was exported to a number of countries. "We want to make sure they're products for all Australians," he said.

Mondelez says Vegemite is found in 80 per cent of Australian homes and that only 2 per cent of Vegemite is sold outside the country.

Vegemite came to be in 1923 when the Fred Walker Co, which would later become Kraft Food Co, set out to create a spread from brewer's yeast.

The name for what was originally labelled "pure vegetable extract" was chosen in a national competition, according to the product's website.

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 23, 2017, with the headline 'Vegemite deal makes it truly Australian'. Print Edition | Subscribe