The Hilariously Random Way Vegemite Got Its Name

A quick Google search for "celebrities trying Vegemite for the first time" is likely to generate a few laughs as you watch Americans like Brad Pitt, Selena Gomez, Eva Mendez, and Jimmy Fallon reacting to this infamous Australian favorite. While the brand was once American-owned, if you're from the U.S. and have never heard of Vegemite, you're probably not alone.

That may be because Vegemite was developed by two Australians, Chemist Cyril Percy Callister, and food developer Fred Walker. The product landed on Australian shelves in 1923. Vegemite was owned by an American company from 1935 until 2017, until Australian-based company Bega Cheese bought the brand, along with several others, for about $350 million (per QUARTZ). "We feel privileged to be taking on the responsibility and guardianship of one of Australia's most loved brands," Bega Cheese's Executive Chairman Barry Irvin said. 

Vegemite is a thick spread that usually goes on crackers, toast, or bread. The paste comes from yeast extract or the yeast that is left behind after beer brewing. Vegemite has become well known in Australia, thanks to some early and seemingly unconventional efforts to promote the brand. 

You may laugh at how Vegemite got its name

The brand is known for humorous tactics, like tweeting to Miley Cyrus after she got a Vegemite tattoo. The product also asked Queen Elizabeth II if she'd send Vegemite a birthday card after it turned 100 years old, and they did it in a big way (per skynews.COM.AU). Therefore, it may not be surprising that shortly after the spread was first developed, owners pulled a creative stunt in order to name the product and generate excitement about its launch.

Both Cyril Percy Callister and Fred Walker wanted to create a product that was better than the British spread called Marmite. Initially, Vegemite had another name: Pure Vegetable Extract (per Vegemite). While Walker's company first helped develop what is now known as Vegemite, he was partners with Kraft in the United States, who initially took over the brand in the 1930s (via NEWS).

But before Kraft took Vegemite on, The Fred Walker Company decided to get Australian citizens involved to come up with a name for the paste. The company created a contest and said the winners would receive money from a 50-pound pool. The winner's name was never recorded. However, it was Walker's daughter who got to select the winning name from hundreds of suggestions. That's right, Vegemite's name was pulled out of a hat.

Quirky Vegemite branding efforts

Vegemite didn't do too well when it first entered stores, largely because Marmite was already highly popular in Australia (per Vegemite). And when the name was temporarily altered to "Parwill" in 1928 to help sales, the spread did not do much better.

The name was then changed back to Vegemite after Fred Walker tried various attempts to get the product to take off for nearly 14 years. These efforts included advertisements, books, contests, and talk about the product's high concentration of vitamin B. One competition even offered Pontiac cars as a prize. In addition, the British Medical Association promoted the product, which led to doctors saying that the product is good for you. Vegemite was also purchased in large quantities by those who fought in World War II.

Despite its humble beginnings, Vegemite is now well-known across Australia. You may have heard of couples who choose baby names out of a hat. It looks like the final name of the brand Australians love to claim as their own was also left up to chance.