To say that Vegemite is an acquired taste would be an understatement. Made from yeast extract — a byproduct of beer brewing — it’s a brownish, salty, meaty food paste and practically the national dish of Australia. But, now, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal, even Australians may be cooling on the stuff.
While 8 out of 10 Australian homes have a jar of Vegemite in the kitchen, the product is struggling. It depends almost entirely on families with small children, for whom lunchbox Vegemite sandwiches have long been a rite of passage. (Once the kids leave home, research shows, purchases of Vegemite in a household drop significantly.)
Today’s kids, however, are finding Vegemite less palatable, both as a result of changing tastes and an increasingly diverse student population. That’s a problem for Vegemite’s parent company, Kraft Foods, which has been tweaking the product to appeal to modern kids — even toying with the recipe to make it less salty — with little success so far.
“If you didn’t have Vegemite as a child yourself, I can’t imagine you would feed it to your own children,” Margaret Heppell, a volunteer school cafeteria manager in Sydney, Australia, told the Journal. At the public school where she works, about half the students are of Asian origin and haven’t developed same the taste for Vegemite as their Australia-born classmates. Kids in Heppell’s school cafeteria “shun Vegemite sandwiches for new delicacies like “Want Want” rice crackers, Singapore noodles and honey-soy chicken.”
Eager to break into new markets, Kraft is now trying to take Vegemite upscale, appealing to the international foodies for whom the product might be an attractively new fad. As the Journal reports:
“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.”
Kraft has also taken to the Internet to find potential customers, trawling social media sites and chat rooms “where Vegemite is trending” to find homesick Aussies abroad.
That’s what the internet is for, right? But, really, the foodie idea is a good one. If you can get the young, hip, culinary-obsessed on-board, you’ve got at least a couple years before the trend is fully exhausted. Do that, Kraft. And maybe the foodies will feed their kids Vegemite, and the circle can begin anew.