/ Food & Drink

A Marmite shortage in the UK? NOOOOoooooo

I came out in a cold sweat when I read about the Marmite shortage in New Zealand. My fingers and toes were crossed that the crisis wouldn’t spread to the UK but, as you might have seen from today’s headlines, it has.

In New Zealand and Australia, Marmite’s actually made by a different company – the trademark was bestowed to manufacturer Sanitarium as a royal gift by King Edward VII in 1908.

The recipe down under even differs from our own, with added caramel and liquorice – no wonder Aussies despise the stuff, instead preferring to spread Vegemite on their Fairy bread.

As for me, Vegemite is banned from my cupboards. I save my cravings for the treacly texture of Marmite – on toast, in sandwiches, on pancakes and pizzas, with crackers and cheese. It’s the perfect salty spread, made from yeast extract, spices, celery and carrots. But now, it might be on its way out.

Don’t panic buy, even if you love Marmite

Unilever, which holds the Marmite brand in the UK, is running short of one of its key (yet secret) ingredients and is now warning fans to spread it thinly on their toast. Edward Hoecks, Unilever’s head of Marmite relations, put this plea out to Britons:

‘We know how much the country loves Marmite, but we’re asking you to refrain from panic buying. Most people have a half-finished jar gathering dust at the back of a cupboard, so there’s no need to rush out to the shops just yet.

‘Why not ask your friends and relatives who “hate it” to donate some Marmite to someone who “loves it”? In the meantime, we’re doing our best to get our remaining supplies to retailers.’

Sadly, people have already taken to stripping Marmite from shop shelves. Tesco yesterday announced that the majority of its supermarkets had run out of the largest size of Marmite jars, with other supermarkets reporting a similar influx.

Current estimates suggest that Marmite sales have increased by around 220%, with the government already making an extra £330k in VAT.

The hashtag #Marmitegate has been trending on Twitter for the past 24 hours, with a number of famous faces putting their hands up as Marmite lovers, including Jonathon Ross, Elizabeth Hurley and chef Raymond Blanc (who caused a stir by claiming Marmite was a French invention). The Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt even tweeted that he spreads Marmite on his chest (like Vicks vapour rub I imagine) before races to help him breathe in more air.

Jars have turned up for auction on eBay (one sold for as much as £162!), though there have been reports of touts filling empty Marmite jars with their own concoctions. My advice is to make sure you stay vigilant and only buy from reputable sellers.

The potted history of my mate Marmite

So let’s reminisce about Britain’s favourite spread with three not widely known Marmite facts:

1. Marmite was first introduced into Britain in the late 19th century, as a medicinal aid. The Victorians believed the strong, black substance could help with anything from headaches to marital difficulties. Somewhat infamously, one gentleman took his love for it too far – Edgar Mandeville was buried with a jar of Marmite in 1886 (the same year Coca Cola was invented).

2. Marmite was included in soldiers’ ration packs during both World Wars. However, it did more than just console homesick soldiers – in the absence of disinfectant, nurses and doctors would often rub Marmite onto soldiers’ wounds to sanitise them. This had the added benefits of both holding wounds together and repelling insects, like mosquitoes.

3. The iconic circle-fronted jar caused controversy in 2006, when fans of the spread protested outside Unilever’s London headquarters to try and stop the roll-out of the new ‘squeezy’ Marmite tub design. Unilever was forced to disperse the crowd with Marmite spray cannons.

No-one could deny that Marmite is a British institution; I’m sure even the Queen spreads it on her crumpets of a morning. So, I really do hope Unilever sorts out the problem soon, as I don’t think I could ever give it up.

Here’s my toast to Marmite! May this black and salty treacle return to full health in due course. Have Marmite stocks been running low near you? And do you love or hate Marmite?


Marmite has a more pronounced, rounded and more concentrated
flavour for want of a better description, dislike Vegemite’s muddy-like
middle-of-the-road taste of something salty but nothing to write home abt or at all;
it seems NZ Marmite has sugar added, an outrage and nothing quite like the
real McCoy that’s UK’s version. Marmite in US is relatively expensive,
a UK import?

With its high salt content keeps forever undiminished in flavour,
wish I’d bought a case when going dirt cheap at 99p shop.

There’s even a Marmite chicken recipe for aficionados.


Which? were quick off the mark with their Marmite April Fool’s joke. The Marmite Spray Cannons are the give-away.

I wondered if Which? Conversation might run an April Fools’ day joke. I’m not even sure if this one is posted by Patrick because of the odd spellings: ‘liquorish’ and ‘Vix’.

This story raises some interesting questions:

1. How can a recipe of a food or drink be secret when the ingredients must be listed?

2. Is claiming a shortage of a product an effective way of promoting long term sales?

John says:
1 April 2012

Actually there are numerous products that have “secret” ingrediants Coca-Cola, Pepsi-Cola, KFC are just a few.

In terms of this April fool, there was a genuine shortage recently in New Zealand, as the factory was damaged in the Earth quake. Quite honestly a really poor attempt at an April fool, now where as good as the infamous spaghetti trees….

My Marmite lists, inter alia, Vegetable Extract, Spice Extracts (note plural) Celery
Extract….says nothing abt the percentage thereof going in OR what the spice or
vegetable in question is, hence as to ‘secret’ claimed that is probably hard to

BTW British Marmite sells well in East Asian markets or countries on the Pacific
rim where also used as a cooking ingredient.

That’s an interesting explanation, Patrick, though I see the spellings have now been corrected. 🙂

A fair number of topics on Which? Conversation look like candidates for April Fools’ Day, but they are genuine. The ‘pasty tax’ and the forthcoming requirement for French motorists to carry breathalysers are recent examples.

Bearing in mind that many of us are looking out for April Fools’ jokes, perhaps you could devise something very subtle for next year.

I love the mango & Marmite smoothie, which I assume is an April Fool. The ‘manufacturer’ has gone as far as to provide nutritional information on their website. I wonder if anyone has tried this curious combination, even if they have made their own.

Many years ago I was offered cheese with heavy fruit cake, which seemed a very strange combination. At the time I was unaware that many eat cake in this way.

In the same way that sweet and savoury can complement each other, how about a combination of the nice and nasty – Marmite with mayo, perhaps? 🙂

The important thing to remember is that Marmite is a by-product of the brewing industry. Environmentally friendly ‘reuse’ in action.

Banjo Nick says:
1 April 2012

I discovered the real difference between Marmite & Vegemite whilst working in the tropics as a Saturation Diver.
Marmite liquifies at a significantly lower temperature than Vegemite so you can spread it on your sanis at a much higher temp/humidity than with Marmite. Is Vegemite Marmite with cornflour?

Janet House says:
1 April 2012

Sad but true – I never travel abroad without a jar of Marmite.
It has to be true.
Not foreign black goo, masquerading as true blue!
NZ stuff is more like glue!
Real Marmite is glossy and shiny and spreads softly like dew…

Reality chack – it is April 1st!

Well done Patrick – I was seriously sat reading the first few paragraphs wondering if this mysterious shortage was connected to the terrible M1 Marmite spillage just outside of Sheffield last year (what a waste). But the idea of asking your Marmite-hating relatives for their spare jars alerted me – we all know that Marmite haters won’t allow the stuff in the house.
I’m another one who resorts to ‘Travel Marmite’ for trips where I know I’ll probably be having bread or toast in the mornings.
I discovered some disturbing aspects to my relationship with Marmite when I lived in China for two years. Marmite was one of the few things I couldn’t get in the shops there (along with Body Shop ginger shampoo) and I ran out of it. And then I got crotchety. And then I got obsessive. And then I got desperate.
In the end I begged a woman whose husband was coming back to the UK for a short business trip to bring me back a jar (apparently he brought back jars for three other people as well).
I realised I can never live without Marmite again. The horror, the horror…

I tried putting marmite in my petrol tank the other day when all the pumps were empty.. just cos it tastes like petrol, I’m afraid it doesn’t work 🙂

I do not believe you. Marmite jars are designed to be too large to fit into the filler pipe of all modern petrol-fuelled vehicles.

bernard todd says:
19 April 2012

I am told that Marmite is made from the residue at the bottom of a brewing tank,home brewers will be familiar with such.