Vegemite abroad: how do you market a product people hate?
EVEN symbols of national pride face the forces of globalisation. Long-time Australian staple Vegemite is struggling. Any foreigner who has spent time in Australia or Britain (home of close cousin Marmite) has probably encountered the savoury spread and recoiled. It seems strange, and even second generation immigrants have a similar reaction.
At Artamon Public School on Sydney’s North Shore, where about half the children are of Asian origin, Vegemite is losing the battle for the young taste buds of increasingly worldly pupils. Kids in the school’s cafeteria shun Vegemite sandwiches for new delicacies like “Want Want” rice crackers, Singapore noodles and honey-soy chicken, said mother-of-three Margaret Heppell and volunteer school cafeteria manager, who served 20,000 meals to kids last year. “If you didn’t have Vegemite as a child yourself, I can’t imagine you would feed it to your own children.”
To combat lagging sales Vegemite first tried tinkering with the product to appeal to a larger audience. But like many well-loved brands who altered their original formula, that wasn’t so successful. Now Vegemite is embracing globalisation by marketing to Australians abroad. It may also want to follow Marmite’s lead—playing up the nostalgia factor on social media.
Or, the by-product of beer brewing with a disturbingly long shelf-life might try to appeal to an up-market global audience (go long on the idea that foodies will eat anything declared trendy):
For some people, Vegemite’s strong flavor offers a uniquely Australian gastronomic opportunity. Chase Kojima, the San Francisco-born chef at Sydney’s Sokyo Restaurant, pairs Moreton Bay bugs—a type of flathead lobster—with burnt butter mayonnaise, passion fruit jelly and Vegemite croutons.
“Being from the U.S., I didn’t understand Vegemite at first. After experimenting with it in my cooking, I can now appreciate the flavor,” said the 29-year-old chef. “It has similarities with umami flavors, very much like miso in Japanese cooking.”
This may be the make or break moment for Vegemite. Globalisation often means that local products fade into obscurity, if they’re inferior, or go big abroad, if there’s a market.