An Illinois company has sold the cult spread back down under
Here’s some good news for residents of Oz: Vegemite—that salty, yeasty, divisive spread most often smeared on buttered toast—is once again owned by an Australian company. Bega Cheese acquired Vegemite from Mondelez International, an Illinois-based food conglomerate, in a $345 million deal earlier this week. It’s the first time the spread has been back under Australian ownership since the recipe and manufacturing methods were sold to Kraft, now Mondelez, in 1935. It was initially made as a substitute for Marmite (the British version of the spread) during World War I when German attacks on merchant ships made importation extremely difficult. Originally made from the yeast dumped by breweries—yes, it’s a great way to have beer for breakfast—it rose in popularity as a health product, thanks to its high concentration of vitamin B.
Though 22 million jars of Vegemite are sold each year, only one jar is exported for every 30 that are bought in Australia. (That could have something to do with its notoriety as, let’s say, an acquired taste.) It’s a bit surprising that a product with such localized popularity could be held by a company based so far away, but it turns out that foreign ownership is pretty normal when it comes to well-known products and brands.
There are some pretty shocking examples of that: Ben & Jerry’s, the ice cream company known for its Vermont hippie roots is owned by Unilever, a gigantic British-Dutch consumer goods company. 3G Capital, a Brazilian-based investment firm, owns most of both Canada's Tim Horton’s doughnut chain and uber-American Burger King. Budweiser, the company that (in)famously named its beer “America” this past summer, is owned by a giant Belgium-based beverage conglomerate, InBev. And Cadbury, of Creme Egg fame—the most staunchly British of chocolate companies—is owned by Mondelez, the same American company that once owned Vegemite.
With the world as interconnected as it is now, it probably shouldn’t come as a shock that the products we think of as authentic (whatever that means) representations of a particular culture are in fact actually created or owned by people and factories in other countries. And if Budweiser's and Ben & Jerry's sales are any indication, people don’t care. But there is something satisfying about products with strong national identities returning to their places of origin, where the first and proudest consumers live.