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Marmite's European and religious roots revealed

Sanitarium's legal threats over a shipment of imported Marmite ignore the product's English roots.

Christchurch importer Rob Savage tried to beat the country's Marmite drought by importing a 2000-jar shipment of the British-made yeast spread, under the name Ma'amite.

Now Seventh-day Adventist-owned Sanitarium is threatening to take legal action to destroy the shipment as its earthquake-damaged Christchurch factory is brought back online.

This would be ironic because, as Sanitarium's website notes, the first Marmite to be sold in New Zealand was imported from England.

The discovery of a yeasty byproduct of beer brewing could be made into food is credited to 19th-century German chemist Baron Justus von Liebig.

But it was the English who first manufactured Marmite, in 1902.

Securing the secret recipe

The name Marmite comes from the French word for earthernware pots – the original vessel in which Marmite was delivered. If you're being correct with your French, it is pronounced "mar-MEET".

Marmite's popularity was boosted in 1912 with the discovery it was a good source of vitamin B. In the 1930s, the New Zealand flavour was altered and sugar was added.

Wikipedia says Sanitarium has manufactured Marmite in New Zealand since 1919.

Sanitarium's website says it was only shortly before World War II that it "secured the secret recipe from the English" and made the first Marmite Down Under at its factory in Cooranbong, near Newcastle, in the Australian state of New South Wales, in 1944. 

The website says the yeast spread has been produced in Christchurch since the mid-1940s.

Since the 1970s, the factory has supplied the whole South Pacific and it is this factory that shut in November 2011, after being damaged by Christchurch's series of brutal earthquakes.

The latest Marmite shortage, dubbed "Marmageddon", is not the first. Sanitarium's Christchurch factory was gutted by fire in 1966

The UK company making Marmite is now owned by global giant Unilever.

Religious roots

The ill-fated Marmite factory occupies the former site of Christchurch Medical and Surgical Sanitarium, a health centre opened in Papanui by Seventh-day Adventists in July 1900.

Sanitarium Health and Wellbeing Company is the trading name for company New Zealand Health Association, which is wholly-owned by the Seventh-day Adventist charitable trust The New Zealand Conference Association, based in Royal Oak, Auckland.

Intellectual Property Office of New Zealand records show the Marmite trademark was first registered in August 1920.

The trademark's owner is Sydney-based Australasian Conference Association, the trustee for the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the South Pacific region.

The religious organisation has copped criticism for not paying tax because of its charitable status. 

In 2011, the Seventh-day Adventist's South Pacific arm, including Sanitarium, reportedly made $86.1 million.

New Zealand's government-run encyclopaedia, Te Ara, says Seventh-day Adventists preach that Jesus will soon return to earth and many practitioners are committed vegetarians, prohibitionists and feminists.

The Seventh-day Adventist Church has about 13 million members worldwide.

More by David Williams

Comments and questions

Whats more ironic is a so called "business review" failing to get its head around a company protecting its IP. No wonder you enjoy Dotcoms company.
Grow up.

IP ?
They aren't even making the stuff. When it was made it was totally different in every respect to the original brand. I would call it more a poor attempt at deceitful passing off.

$86.1 m profit and no tax
This is where the govt needs to tighten the screws rather than tying to do business for car parks etc etc

IRD where are you? Sanitarium are quite obviously a business, not a charity! I pay tax why don't they!! Disgraceful!!!

I am bitterly disappointed in learning that Sanitarium, one of my favourite brands by taste and choice are nothing but a pack of bully boy, tax dodging religious n*tters who even while incapable of making NZ marmite seem to think the buying public are so stupid that they cannot discriminate between the various version types sold around the planet.
Even worse the NZ version is sold I am told in the UK and we dont see the original marmite makers blocking and threatening to have destroyed any of those deliveries.
If marmite wasn't the only problem I now see that Weetbix and Weetabix is also in Sanitariums sights with a small importer having her shipment ripped apart by customs officers so its reported, with a ruinous exocism type fervour blaming it all on a drug search.
What on earth is Sanitarium thinking of in destroying overnight any brand loyalty we could possibly have?
It is an insult to any intelligence that I, my family & friends cannot tell the difference between marmite brands and worse having now seen the Weetabix packets and being told the taste and style of the cereal bricks is also chalk & cheese that I might be possibly fooled into buying the wrong item. Idiots !
I reckon its time for Sanitarium to be taxed and stand up to the rigours of real competition in light of the evidence that at least in the area of commerce they are certainly not either christian like nor charitable.

The religious issues and comments are irrelevant , what is relevant is who owns the trademarks , this is nothing more than passing off and Sanitariuum are duty bound to protect their brand as I do in my business , there is always somebody out there wanting to knock off a successful product and capitalise on marketing and advertising money somebody else has spent in the course of building a brand.

Problem for you is that it is Sanitaribum that copied the original English brand.

totally irrelevant and you are displaying your ignorance there is only one legal owner of the brand and that is the company on the trademark registry,

Not irrelevant when any cursory google clearly shows that Marmite was first manufactured in Burton on Trent in 1902 and was copied 'downunder' and the slimey lot trademarked it in this part of the world in 1920. Seems the Sanitarium rogues have had a few generations of copying other peoples ideas and passing them off as their own. Just because Sanitarium got some dodgy bit of paper from the days of the telegram dosn't sway me that the poms originated the brand name and a far more powerful universal trademark registration now owned by Unilever.

Like I said irrelevant

What a pity Sanitarium is being so zealous in this instance. They are underming their credibility in other ways as well using Chinese peanuts for their peanut butter instead of better quality Australian nuts. Its bound to come back to bite them in my opinion

Where's your evidence re Chinese nuts?

Sanitarium state quiet clearly on their Peanut Butter products that they are Australian peanuts.
The Eta brand and supermarket house brands use Chinese peanuts.

The trademark belongs tpo them and we should not accept anotehr manufactor to sell under this name in Australasia. it will confuse customers.

You obviously havn't read Mr Williams excellent summary artcle above. To put it in plain English...Sanitarium nicked the brand name off the Brits in 1920.
AND I suspect are possibly paying a royalty to use ?
If true, I wonder if its time for the original owners to pull Sanitariums brand name manufacturing rights?

you and Mr Williams should research the idea of "jurisdiction" . its probably on wikipedia

Sanitarium Marmite is sold in the UK as Marmite ... and the poms aren't confused. Are you saying that Kiwis are so thick that they can't tell the difference between two pots with totally different branding?

portecting their IP is fine, but they are clearly a business and therefore should be paying tax.

Or maybe everyone should set themselves up as a religious organisation and avoid paying taxes that way?

Used to be a Marmite believer. I was told by a long time believer in Vegemite that Marmite tastes to followers of that faith, as being a little on the sweet side. Not sure if it was on a Sunday, but I had my first taste of Vegemite. By Jove, he was rite. Not being an evangelical type myself I've kept this to myself until now but the slightly saltier Vegemite is my preferred nectar. Hallelujah!


isnt that what Greenpeace are going to court for? Protecting its charity status?

so green peace is not a charity but this outfit is..... the law is corrupt to the core.

laws made by corps for corps = fascism

Greenpeace isn't a charity it is a political party

Sanitarium own the brand and should be the only party selling Marmite here. But, a couple of things:

1) Sanitarium are shockers (atypical of any church really) for not paying Tax. IRD should change their status and get that tax dammit!
2) Marmite is horrible -- all that added sugar, yuck. Nice one, contributing to massive diabetes issues. Vegemite is far superior and better for you.

IRD, tax these tax-dodging freaks.

This may be a defining moment in Seven Day Adventist's strategic plans, they have made themselves a sitting target for the IRD, and can only blame themselves.

The will have stopped the sale of $100s of the UK substitute, and exposed themselves to the loss of $100s of MILLIONS in future profits. duh, well done guys, great IP protection, retained Intellectual Property and lost Increased Profits.

Hang on this shop owner is trying to use the lack of Marmite in NZ to make a quick buck. He is not Robin Hood... He's not giving it away for free!. He is wanting to make money. If you want UK Marmite (which being from England I love). Its called Our Mate and is available EVERYWHERE and is bloody expensive.

If NZ Marmite wasn't in short supple, no one would give a flying fox. Bet he would import that much ether.

Our mate is not the same as uk marmite,

Oh yes it is. The name stems from the old UK advertising "our mate Marmite"

I have both in the cupboard. ohhhh and look at this from Wiki
"As Sanitarium has the exclusive right to the Marmite name in Australasia, Unilever UK sells the British Marmite as Our Mate in Australia and New Zealand through local distributors."

So please before you start trolling, do a little research.

I have all three in the cupboard, and while 'Our Mate' is closer to the original Marmite than the New Zealand Marmite, it is still not the same. In comparison, it's strangely runny, actually. But thanks for an article explaining the background and the difference between the genuine article and the Sanitarium imitation.So it's the infamous Kiwi sweet tooth to blame, is it? No wonder our Kiwi-born kids can't appreciate the real thing.

You're right, Our Mate is not quite the the same as UK Marmite, or South African Marmite, but all three are quite similar - and arguably a darn sight tastier, and better for you (lacking additives and sugar), than Kiwi Marmite...Although I do admit it's a matter of preference, probably dictated by one's place of birth. Being a Saffa, I can't touch Kiwi Marmite without gagging at the taste!

i have always imported marmite.To import 2,000 jars is hardly going to take on anyone and it is only sold in niche outlets which sell uk products.So to make a quick buck not really as i've imported it many times before.This jar was a collectors edition for the queen and people wanted to keep the jar as a souvenir.

Actually my husband and I have been importing proper Marmite for over a year with no problem AT ALL.The stop notice was put on in July of this year.Coincidence much.We imported it in for our British customers in our British shop because they wanted Marmite from the UK not Our Mate which is close but no cigar for us and our British customers.We expats should have the right to buy what we want and not be told what we can and can't buy.How would you like it if you went to the UK and was missing your Marmite and not be able to buy it and be told you'll just have to buy British Marmite?You wouldn't and that wouldn't be a problem any way because you can buy NZ Marmite in speciallity shops in London as Saniatrium promoted on their Fcaebook page.We didn't import it in to take over the market we don't even appeal to the Kiwi market.It wouldn't affect sanitariums business whether they had marmite or not but it will affect their business the way they're behaving.

what is happening to religious organisations
'they suppose to be model of good citizens or good tax that what their god is telling them?

Tax them ! Everyone else has to pay tax.

Just out of curiosity, when did the sneak in those "natural flavours" to substitute for the sugar and make it even more toxic? as we all know under NZ's lax labelling laws, aspartame is the ingredient labelled harmlessly as "natural flavours". I stopped eating it when I figured that one out.
As for the company, for an organization so steeped in religious fervent they are acting like all unethical capitalists and should definitely be taxed for such behaviour and diluting natural substances with such impurities.

I'm from the UK and I just don't like the Marmite or Weetbix here...not that there is anything wrong with them but just that I was brought up on a different kind. The point for me is that these small shipments aren't going to damage the Marmite Market in NZ at all its just going to provide a product for the people who would prefer to eat something from home. Sanitarium need to get over themselves and I for one won't be buying and more of their cereal...stop being so greedy, you already get to dodge your tax! Good on the store that ordered it...if I saw a gap in the market and thought I could make some money I would do the same....who wouldn't! Time for a change to a better brand..