Car Features

100 years of Vegemite

 

The iconic Vegemite spread has now been around for 100 years and has some historic motoring affiliation.

The latest Vegemite historic vehicle initiative is a limited edition Holden EH panel van model, liveried proudly in Vegemite colours and branding. It’s available through selected scale model vehicle outlets.

However, the brand was associated with a Pontiac car giveaway before World War II and was also promoted by racing legend, Peter Brock, in the early 1980s. 

Here’s a potted, or rather ‘jar-filled’ history of the Vegemite brand.

The Vegemite brand has been proudly owned by the great Australian food company, Bega Cheese Limited, since 2017, returning Vegemite to Australian ownership for the first time in more than 90 years.

Vegemite has been made in Port Melbourne since 1923, when Dr Cyril P Callister, of the Fred Walker Company, developed a spread from one of the richest known natural sources in the Vitamin B group – brewer’s yeast. 

After months of laboratory tests, he developed a tasty, spreadable product that was labelled ‘Pure Vegetable Extract’ and which later became known as ‘Vegemite’.

The Fred Walker Company asked the Aussie public to name their spread, so a national competition was launched, offering an attractive £50 ($100) prize pool for finalists. 

The name of the winning contestant is unknown, but the winning name of the spread – Vegemite – was chosen by Fred Walker’s daughter, from hundreds of entries. 

 

National Museum of Australia photo

 

From 1923, Vegemite graced the shelves of grocers Australia-wide. “Delicious on sandwiches and toast, and improving the flavours of soups, stews and gravies,” was how the spread was first described and marketed.

In 1926, the Fred Walker Company merged with US-owned J L Kraft Inc, to become Kraft Walker Cheese Company Pty Ltd.

At the time, UK-produced Marmite spread dominated the Australian market and Australians were reluctant to even try Fred Walker’s locally made product. Poor sales of Vegemite resulted in its name being changed in 1928 to ‘Parwill’. The logic behind the re-branding strategy was simple: “If Mar-mite…then Par-will.”

Unsurprisingly, that branding failed to gain momentum across the country. It took Kraft Walker 14 years of perseverance and a change back to the original Vegemite before Australians embraced what would later become an Australian icon.

In 1937, a limerick competition with substantial prizes – including Pontiac cars – was a promotion to increase sales of Vegemite nation-wide. 

 

 

Following that successful promotion, Vegemite gained official product endorsement from the British Medical Association in 1939. Medical professionals and baby care experts recommended Vegemite as a Vitamin-B-rich, nutritionally-balanced food. 

By 1942, more than 20 years after it was first developed, Vegemite had become a staple food in most Australian homes.

During World War II the Armed Forces bought Vegemite in bulk, due to the product’s nutritional value and Fred Walker’s company had to ration Vegemite on a per capita basis across Australia to meet the demand. 

In 1954, a trio of energetic youngsters burst into song on radio to a toe-tapping jingle named ‘Happy Little Vegemites’. Two years later, the infectious song was developed into a television campaign, which continued intermittently through to the late 1960s. 

 

 

In the 1980s, eminent Australians endorsed Vegemite, including motor racing legend, Peter Brock.

Also in the 1980s, the original commercials, re-mastered and colourised, were broadcast to an entirely new generation of Australians. The ‘Happy Little Vegemites commercial was released again in 2010.

In 2016, Cook Street in Port Melbourne, Victoria (the home of Vegemite), was renamed ‘Vegemite Way’.

What makes Vegemite so great? It’s completely woven into the fabric of our nation. It isn’t just owned and made in Australia: it tastes like Australia.

 

National Museum of Australia photo

 

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