The reopening of pubs is not only good for those of us that have been gasping for a pint. It’s also great news for Marmite.
Supermarkets were running low on the sticky brown condiment last month because of yeast shortages while breweries lowered production during the pandemic. During the first national lockdown last year, Marmite had to suspend production altogether. My local supermarket shelf was still suspiciously empty in early May.
Oddly, however, the shelf below was packed with a new Marmite upstart: Dynamite Chilli Marmite.
No longer is Marmite only a slightly niche savoury spread your granny layered on toast. Or what Nigella puts on spaghetti. Oh no. Today you can buy Marmite hummus and Marmite cream cheese. You can slather yourself in Lynx Marmite shower gel - or slather 'Marmite Peanut Butter Crunchy XL' on bagels. What exactly 'XL' refers to is not entirely clear.
Unilever, the Anglo-Dutch consumer goods behemoth that owns Marmite, has launched four Marmite products since the beginning of 2020 and nine co-labs as if the 119-year-old spread was a trendy fashion brand.
Its hot cross bun collaboration with M&S caused a small storm on Twitter when it launched in January. One user described them as tasting like 'Satan’s underpants'. But another said that eggy bread made with Marmite hot cross buns was the 'culinary breakthrough of the decade'. You either love it or hate it, as they say.
Unilever says that the combination of people cooking more at home and the lack of brewing yeast is causing both high demand for and shortages of the traditional product. It expects the full range of jars back on the shelves as soon as pubs and bars reopen and it can get through the two-week Marmite manufacturing process.
The company also says that new product launches have been inspired by flavour combinations dreamt up by Marmite consumers. Sausages, pinwheels and Graze snacking pots are all now Marmite infused. In 2019, there was even a short-lived Marmite Easter egg. The mind boggles at what experimental delights have been created that haven’t made the cut.
Demand for more familiar products - retro items such as Kraft Heinz’s macaroni cheese or just yeast as we all became amateur bakers - has increased during lockdowns as being at home more made us (briefly) nostalgic for days of domesticity before we started craving Pret again. Marmite has benefited from this trend. According to the research firm Kantar, sales of Marmite increased from £46m to £54m last year.
There is something innately comforting about this curiously British spread that was dreamt up by a German scientist and named after a French cooking pot. The lustre of the cocoa brown gloop as it slicks over butter, the nose-twinging umami smell as you scrape it out of the jar. It doesn’t even annoy me that it's impossible to see if the jar is empty because it is the same colour as its contents.
But for those of us who like a little Marmite here and there, are Marmite’s other, less retro offerings any good?
The Dynamite chilli Marmite packs a little too much of a punch for my breakfast taste buds even though it’s no vindaloo, but stirred through mince it’s pretty good. No doubt it would fire up Nigella’s pasta no end.
Marmite gave a nice depth to the tahini in hummus - intriguing if not delicious. And the cream cheese tastes, well, like cream cheese and Marmite on toast might. In fact, it made me wonder why they haven’t simply mashed Marmite into butter to make all our lives simpler. Or just infused it straight into bread.