Vegemite. It’s an Australian icon and an essential part of diets across the country - used in stews and casseroles, in soups and gravies, in sandwiches with cheese or just by itself on toast. But who first came up with the idea of making this black, sticky spread? 

According to Kraft - the manufacturer of Vegemite, the spread was first invented in 1922. That was the year the Fred Walker Company (which became the Kraft Walker Company in 1926 and finally dropped the Walker in 1950), hired a young chemist by the name of Dr Cyril P Callister to develop a spread from leftover brewer’s yeast, a rich source of vitamin B used in beer production.

He came up with vegemite - which was initially sold in a two ounce or 57 gram jar with the label “pure vegetable extract” (later changed to “concentrated yeast extract”.) The company boss, Fred Walker, then held a national competition to find a name for the new product with a prize pool of 50 pounds. According to Kraft, the winner’s name has since been ‘lost to history’ but it is known that it was Walker’s daughter who drew out the winning entry.

Vegemite wasn’t an overnight success. An English product called Marmite then dominated the market and after poor sales performance against this, in 1928 Walker renamed Vegemite as Parwill, using the slogan that if “Marmite then Parwill”. The new product was only ever sold in Queensland but failed to stimulate much interest.

Walker eventually decided that the only way the product was going to be a success was if he could get people to taste it. So in 1935 the company launched a two year coupon redemption scheme under which Vegemite was given away when people purchased other products out of the Fred Walker Company's range.

The coupon scheme, coupled with another competition - this time offering prizes including cars, led to Vegemite’s success and, following approval by the British Medical Association in 1939, Australian doctors started recommending it as a source of vitamin B. Australian soldiers have been using it ever since World War II.

As to the song Happy Little Vegemites? It was first heard on radio in 1954 and launched on TV two years later, running until the late Sixties. It reappeared on TV in the late 1980s and continues to form an important part of the company’s marketing campaign.

In 1984, a 115 gram jar of Vegemite became the first product to be electronically scanned at an Australian supermarket checkout. According to Kraft, more than 22 million jars of Vegemite are now sold every year.



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