New Zealanders toast the end of 'Marmageddon'

WELLINGTON (AFP) - Supermarkets across New Zealand stocked up with Marmite for the first time in more than a year on Wednesday, as a shortage of the salty spread caused by the Christchurch earthquake came to an end.

In a culinary crisis dubbed "Marmageddon", the country's only Marmite factory closed after sustaining damage in the February 2011 Christchurch quake, halting production of the thick, black concoction.

The factory was supposed to re-open in mid-2012 but the work ran behind schedule, leaving Kiwis including Prime Minister John Key complaining about missing their breakfast treat.

Jars of the spread, which is typically smeared on toast and is likened by critics to axle grease laced with salt, exchanged hands for up to NZ$80 (S$82.44) on Internet auction sites as customers sought their savoury fix.

Food company Sanitarium said the factory was now finally back up and running, allowing supplies to resume.

"Marmite is back on supermarket shelves across NZ," it said on its Facebook page.

"Thanks for not freaking out and for waiting patiently for the black gold's return. It's back and now it's time to celebrate!"

Supermarkets in downtown Wellington were rationing jars at two per customer on Wednesday, with stocks still disappearing fast.

"I'm very happy," shopper Robyn Lonergan told AFP. "I've tried the alternatives but they're just not the same, so I've had to have jam or peanut butter on my toast."

The New Zealand spread tastes slightly different to Australia's Vegemite and the British version of Marmite, which has long been marketed with the line "you either love it or hate it".

The 6.3-magnitude quake that rocked New Zealand's second-largest city in early 2011 killed 185 people. It was the country's worst tremor for 80 years.

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