The beloved yeast spread Vegemite, now synonymous with Australian culture, is finally back in Australian hands.
Bega Cheese, based in Melbourne, agreed to buy Vegemite and a range of other food brands, including ZoOSH mayonnaise and Bonox beef extract, from Mondelez International in a deal worth nearly $350 million (paywall). “We feel privileged to be taking on the responsibility and guardianship of one of Australia’s most loved brands,” Bega Cheese’s Executive Chairman Barry Irvin said in a statement.
Vegemite first gained popularity in post-World War I Australia as a substitute for Marmite, a British yeast spread made from beer byproducts, after exports for Marmite were interrupted by the war. Though incredibly popular in Australia—22 million jars are sold every year—Vegemite has been American-owned for the last 90 years.
The iconic product was developed in 1920s from brewer’s yeast, under the Fred Walker Company by the chemist Cyril Callister. Vegemite was bought by US-owned Kraft in 1935, but is still manufactured in Port Melbourne, Victoria. Kraft restructured in 2012, putting Vegemite under the control of Mondelez. Bega Cheese’s acquisition of Vegemite marks a strategic shift (paywall) for the company that up till now primarily focused on the dairy sector.
While Vegemite is found in 90% of Australian homes, it’s definitely an acquired taste outside the country. Former Australian prime minister Julia Gillard reaffirmed her love for Vegemite when former US president Barack Obama visited in 2011, but Obama admitted he found the spread “horrible.” Actor Hugh Jackman came to Vegemite’s defense on Jimmy Fallon’s TV show in 2015, insisting it’s meant to be layered thin on toast.
Vegemite is not just a staple in Australian sandwiches; in recent years it’s also been used to make bootleg alcohol. Described as a “precursor to misery,” the government suggested local regulations to limit how much can be purchased at one time.