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Love vegemite? You’ll definitely love the remarkable history behind it too

September 6, 2013 • Featured

When it comes to Australian icons, Vegemite is pretty much up there in the league of kangaroos, the wattle and Holden cars.

Image credit: Flickr user tolomea

Image credit: Flickr user tolomea

Although it causes others’ tastebuds to recoil, after all only Aussies would be obsessed with leftovers of beer manufacturing, it has definitely cemented itself in Australian pantries for 90 years.

Did you know that the Kraft Plant in Melbourne produces 23 million jars of Vegemite every year? Now that’s a success story. But did you also know Vegemite’s beginnings were less than stellar?

In a feature on Business Spectator, NAB takes us back in time to look at the history of this iconic Australian brand.

Jamie Callister, grandson of Vegemite inventor Cyril Callister, says the jar of leftover brewers’ yeast extract was “instantly and spectacularly unsuccessful” the minute it rolled out from production line in 1923.

“More jars were arriving back at the factory than were leaving it. Even the head salesman couldn’t stand it!” Jamie said.

According to the article, Jamie authored a book about his grandfather’s life entitled ‘The Man Who Invented Vegemite’. After the First World War, Cyril returned to Melbourne and had a fateful meeting with food entrepreneur Fred Walker who wanted to come up with a local version of Marmite.

Cyril then began experimenting on leftover brewers’ yeast from Carlton United Breweries, and the painstaking trial-and-error process resulted to the Vegemite that Australians love today.

Despite employing several marketing tactics like changing the product’s name, Vegemite was not an immediate success. But thanks to a scientific discovery that beriberi could be cured with Vegemite, Mr. Walker started marketing it as an excellent source of Vitamin B and an all-around wonder food.

“They sold Vegemite to parents as something nutritious that children couldn’t wipe off their bread,” says Callister. “That was a watershed moment because Vegemite became a staple food for Australian babies.”

By 1942, the Vegemite brand had become a staple in every Australian household and the Armed Forces in World War II bought the product in bulk due to its nutritional value.

Jamie Callister also acknowledged the support of NAB for helping save the company from financial ruin during its disappointing debut.

“If it wasn’t for National Australia Bank’s financial support the business and product would’ve folded,” he said.

For a more detailed history of Vegemite, read the story here.

Got fond memories of Vegemite? Share them with us on the comments below!

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