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In 1922, the struggling Fred Walker Company hired chemist Dr Cyril P Callister to develop a food spread made from readily available leftover brewer’s yeast extract, a rich natural source of Vitamin B.
In a stroke of marketing genius, the company ran a nationwide competition asking the Australian public to name the spread. Fred Walker’s daughter chose the name Vegemite out of hundreds of entries and the product hit the shelves in 1923.
In direct competition with Marmite (an already popular British spread), Vegemite’s name was changed to Parwill in 1928, and its new slogan, a subtle dig at the British brand, became ‘if Marmite, then Parwill’. This strategy didn’t go well, and it took 14 years and the decision to revert to the original name for Vegemite to gain a foothold in Australia and become a household name.
In 1939, the British Medical Association endorsed Vegemite for its healthy properties and during the Second World War, Australia’s armed forces ordered so much Vegemite that rationing was imposed at home to meet demand for the troops. The absence of Marmite exported from Britain during this time meant Vegemite had a hold on the Australian market and helped Australians develop a taste for the spread.
Since the Happy Little Vegemites started singing their instantly recognisable jingle in 1954, the Aussie obsession with Vegemite has continued, with people buying more than 22 million jars every year.