Kosher Marmite to reappear in Britain

Jewish customers campaigned Unilever to get the product on supermarket shelves.

By JERRY LEWIS
June 18, 2015 01:50
2 minute read.
Marmite

Marmite. (photo credit: FACEBOOK)

LONDON – Lovers of the unique yeast-based food spread Marmite who wish to stick to a strictly kosher food product range will be able to buy the specially shaped jars once more.

Marmite is very much an acquired taste. The sticky brown spread with its distinctive and powerful salty flavor is very much the same as it was when first invented by German scientist Justus von Liebeg in 1902. The by-product of brewing beer, the yeast extract has been marketed and sold throughout the world in the unusually shaped glass jars which first appeared in the 1920s.

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Since it is manufactured from a vegetable base, Marmite became very popular especially with vegetarians and others preferring a meatfree alternative to another much used spread, Bovril, which is made from beef extract. Both products grew in sales as parents searched for alternatives to sugar-rich spreads.

With such a distinctive taste, people took either a liking or a dislike to Marmite.

This led to the advertising slogan “Love it or hate it,” which in turn resulted in a recent addition to the English lexicon, a “marmite-type” character, describing someone one either likes or dislikes.

Problems for those who keep kosher arose when, in 1990, the original Marmite company became a subsidiary of the meat-based Bovril Company, which in 2000 was merged with the international food conglomerate Unilever.

However, predating the 1990 takeover, in what a Unilever spokesman disclosed was an arrangement dating back to the 1950s, and despite the Marmite jars displaying a “suitable for vegetarians” notice, it has been confirmed that the two spreads, Marmite and the beef extract Bovril, were manufactured on interchangeable product lines. This information subsequently led to the UK’s kashrut authorities to advise that kashrut-keepers should no longer accept UK-produced Marmite.

To the rescue came imports of the South African brand of Marmite, which had the approval of the South African kashrut authorities based in Johannesburg. As jars of the now-considered-unkosher versions of Marmite gradually disappeared from the shelves of the UK’s kosher supermarkets, the identically shaped South African variety emerged.

A British company, Jumbo Importers, had been successfully filling a gap in the market for over nine years when Unilever stepped in and informed it that selling the South African import was an infringement of their trademark, illegal. Jumbo had to cease imports forthwith.

This led to rapidly dwindling supplies, until late last year stores ran out of kosher Marmite, and Unilever indicated it was not prepared to step in with a UK-based kosher version. It had been told by the London Beth Din what changes were needed to gain a kashrut certificate and reckoned the small demand did not justify the substantial changes needed to its manufacturing process.

But behind the scenes, negotiations went on between Unilever and the Beth Din, in an attempt to find an acceptable resolution and restoration of supplies.

With Jewish customers continuing a campaign to persuade Unilever to change its mind, success has been signaled this week, with Unilever’s agreement to reintroduce a special-sized jar of kosher Marmite later this month.

Kosher Marmite will be in the UK’s kosher supermarkets in 70g. jars bearing the Kosher London Beth Din logo, KLBD, manufactured and packed on a completely separate production line.


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