Sunday, February 24

Surviving Marmageddon

For the last 15 months the news in New Zealand has been filled with talk about Marmageddon.  What’s that you ask?  Sanitarium Marmite, a pungent yeast spread, is a popular staple in New Zealand households. The bitter, salty, dark brown paste is the nation’s answer to Australia’s Vegemite and Promite, or the UK’s own version of Marmite.  Growing up in New Zealand, you always had Marmite spread liberally on your toast at breakfast, or hidden in your lunch box sandwiches.  

Since 1919, all of New Zealand’s Marmite has made in a single factory, located on the outskirts of Christchurch. It’s manufactured under license using a recipe adapted from that used for the UK’s Marmite spread.  Most notably, New Zealand’s version includes sugar and caramel which results in a slightly less tangy, smoother tasting product.  However, both versions use the yeast by-products of beer brewing as their core ingredient.  Much like Vegemite, you either love it, or you hate it.

I love it.  When Garry and I were living in the UK, I used to carry jars of Marmite home with me after every New Zealand visit.  My parents even bought me a large jar when they came to stay in 2007. Since returning to Australia I’ve been able to satisfy my cravings without resorting to imports as the local Supermarket sells small 250g jars of the stuff.   However, this availability proved short-lived.  Production of New Zealand Marmite was halted in November 2011 when the Christchurch factory closed for repairs.

The Christchurch factory had been damaged by the deadly February 22, 2011 earthquake and its aftershocks.  Its cooling tower had cracks and closer inspection revealed other structural issues. Sanitarium was forced to halt production.  It originally anticipated that repairs would take seven months to complete.  By March 2012, its stocks had run out, leaving consumers with the specter of bare shelves for at least three months.  The price of Marmite quickly went through the roof.  Large jars were offered online for as much as NZ$800, considerably more than the regular retail price of $4.25 for a 250g jar.

At the time I was oblivious to the shortage. I notice its disappearance from our Supermarket shelves but assumed that Coles had decided to stop stocking the product. Only weeks earlier I’d blithely and lavishly spread the last of my Marmite on toast.  I decided to resort to imports once again and my sister-in-law to bring Marmite when she came to visit.  It was then that I learnt of an emerging storage the media were dubbing "Marmageddon".

In June last year Sanitarium discovered more earthquake damage, pushing Marmite’s return to shelves out into 2013. Marmite has now been out of stock for a year.  However, the end of the drought is in sight.  This week, the company announced that Marmite would be back on shelves from March 20.  It claims to have already begun full production of 250g jars, its most popular size.  I’ll be interested to see if our local Coles will restock the product after a 12 month hiatus.  I fear they’ll decide people like me have moved on to other products.  We haven't.  I hate Vegemite and English Marmite is just awful stuff.

I’m reasonably optimistic marmite will return to local Supermarket shelves as our store recently introduced a classic New Zealand products section.  A few weeks ago we suddenly discovered a shelf groaning with L&P soft drink, cheese flavoured Rashuns and other popular New Zealand junk food.  If I’d not just returned from a month with family, drinking L&P almost daily I’m sure I’d have made an impulse purchase.  As was I relented just enough to buy a packet of coconut Krispie biscuits, a taste sensation I’ ve not had since childhood.

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