Love or loathe it, Marmite's the taste of Christchurch

Last updated 05:00 24/02/2013

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Makers Sanitarium tried to recreate Marmite overseas when their Harewood factory was closed down for quake repairs in November 2011.

But they discovered Christchurch is the only place New Zealand Marmite can be made with the taste so many Kiwis love.

Despite shipping local staff and New Zealand secret ingredients to a plant in South Africa to try to reproduce local Marmite, they found the experiment failed. The country's only Marmite-making plant in Christchurch ground to a halt in November 2011 after quake damage.

"The whole factory needed restructuring. The vats and all the equipment is critical - you can't do without any one piece," said Sanitarium chief executive officer Pierre Van Heerden.

Marmite stocks ran out - launching widespread panic. Marmageddon.

What was not known till now is the lengths Sanitarium went to for an alternative.

Marmite is also sold in Britain by Unilever and South Africa by Pioneer Foods, but Marmite lovers will tell you they taste different.

Van Heerden convinced the South African plant to produce additional Marmite to New Zealand specifications. It sent staff across with secret herbs and spices to run the production line in South Africa.

"We went to extensive lengths, it wasn't cheap to fly people over and set up there with our ingredients," he said.

The moment came, finished jars were shipped over to taste test.

"The trial was close - they brought it back and I had people lined up to taste test it. But as soon as I opened the jar it smelt different. It looked and tasted different." It was somehow darker, smoother and more bitter..

He realised that the particular yeasts procured in New Zealand give Kiwi Marmite its distinctive taste and texture - and could not be reproduced anywhere else.

"The last thing you want to do is put a product out there that isn't the same," he said.

And Van Heerden knew no fakes, no imposters, no nearly-but-not-quites would suffice. It was Christchurch Marmite, or nothing. So the shelves slowly emptied. The wait has been long.

But in the next few weeks, Marmite lovers can rejoice knowing their favourite breakfast spread will return, with the Christchurch factory recommissioned and 400,000 jars ready for shipping.

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- Sunday Star Times

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