Life

The Great Marmite Scare Of 2016 Was A (Kind Of Funny) Harbinger Of Brexit’s Consumer Impact


Here’s the thing about this life: It’s imbued with mystery. Every day, things happen — both large and small — that we can’t ever hope to understand. To be alive is to dance with the unknown. Take Marmite, for example (transition of the decade, unlocked). How could anyone like the stuff? And who would have thought that this simple yeast extract would be the thing to make the looming impact of Brexit finally seem real?

Marmite, for those who don’t know, is a breakfast spread popular in the U.K.. It’s usually smeared on toast — though, based on its consistency, you might expect to see it used to patch drywall holes. It’s much like Vegemite in Australia, which is better known to U.S. audiences because of the greatest song ever, “Man Down Under.”

Yesterday, supermarket chain Tesco pulled Marmite from it’s online store. People noticed. The reaction was pandemonium, and #Marmitegate was born (if your problems don’t spawn a hashtag, did they even happen?).

The whole thing came about because the British pound is falling. Unilever, makers of Marmite, approached Tesco with a price increase, to compensate for currency changes, and Tesco tried to push back. Unilever is co-headquartered in London, but it publishes stock earnings and financial reports in Euros (its other HQ is in Holland), which cast the impact of the weakening pound in stark relief on its financial reports. In order to compensate, even Unilever products made in the U.K. — like Marmite — would have to increase in price.

For a few hours, it was like the East Coast vs. West Coast Rap Wars of the consumer goods industry, when Unilever stopped delivering products and Marmite was pulled from Tesco’s online store.


Okay, that tweet was fake, but it seemed to capture the sentiment. People were not happy and made the obvious connection to Brexit (which shoved the pound off a cliff).

You know something is a big deal when people change their WiFi network names. That’s basically a Boston Tea Party in the making right there.

In troublesome times, the people need an icon to be the voice of reason. That person was Ricky Gervais, who reminded Brits that since Marmite is only palatable when spread paper thin, they’d probably survive a brief shortage.

But fear is a thief in the night, it steals our sanity without explanation.

Mid-hysteria, people wondered if knowledge of a Marmite shortage could have swung the Brexit vote in the first place.

Finally, like the bootstrappers they are, our U.K. cousins soon went into problem solving mode.

One key option rose to the fore.

And once called upon, that “other” breakfast spread was ready.

In the end, the whole thing was “successfully resolved.” The brands basically agreed on a reasonable price increase, figured out who will absorb what, and sorted through the consumer impact. Still, it’s a sign of things to come as prices are likely to rise across the country in coming months.

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