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Vegemite is a spread made from yeast that is popular in Australia. It is similar to Marmite but most Australians will tell you that it is subtly different to its English rival.

It can be used as a flavouring in sauces and gravies but is most often spread on toast. It can also be dissolved in hot water to make a drink.

Vegemite first went on sale in 1923 as a rival to Marmite, which at the time dominated the Australian market. Its origins go back to a year earlier when the Fred Walker Company, which became Kraft Walker Foods in 1926 and Kraft Foods Limited in 1950, hired a young chemist, Dr. Cyril P Callister, to develop a spread from brewers yeast, the same core ingredient of Marmite.

The Fred Walker Company decided to run a nationwide competition to pick the name for the new spreadable paste and £50 was awarded to the winning contestant, which was picked by Fred Walker’s daughter (history has not recorded the name of the winner).

Vegemite launched in 1923 with the slogan: “Delicious on sandwiches and toast, and improves the flavour of soups, stews and gravies”. It was far from an immediate success as Marmite dominated the Australian market and in 1928 Vegemite was renamed Parwill to try and improve sales (on the basis that the could advertise it as “If Marmite...then Parwill”.

Parwill was not a success in its Queensland test market and the company decided to try again with Vegemite. A limerick contest was launched with prizes that included a Pontiac car (very desirable at the time) and sales started to take off.

In the run up to World War II Vegemite was endorsed by the British Medical Association as being rich in Vitamin B and of nutritional value to the sick. Sales rose quickly on the back of this endorsement and during the war demand was so high, especially from soldiers at the front, that Vegemite was strictly rationed. The company let people know that Vegemite was keeping Australian soldiers healthy while at war, which further boosted its credentials.

At the end of the war Infant Welfare Centres began recommending Vegemite as a source of Vitamins B1 and B2 and Niacin, further boosting sales, especially as this was the time of the ‘baby boom’.

In 1954 The Happy Little Vegemites first appeared on a radio advertisement, singing the ‘Happy Little Vegemites’ song. Two years later they made the leap to television and they stayed there until the 1960s; they were later revived in the late 1980s and most Australians can sing the advertising slogan on request.

Vegemite now sells more than 22 million jars a year, many to Australians living overseas for whom the spread reminds them of their childhood and home.

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