Why don’t we trust Aussie brands?

Cadbury was named the most trusted brand in Australia, while Arnotts was gonged the most iconic Australian brand in a recent Readers Digest list…. and almost at the same time, Vegemite, that evil, black, Aussie staple, has been messed with.

There’s a trivia parlour game here. What’s wrong with this picture? Or spot the Aussie.

You got it. Neither the most trusted brand here nor the most iconic brand is Australian owned – nor for that matter is Vegemite.

We have a long history of selling-off Aussie brands. Interestingly there was a reversal of that process when Dairy Farmers, an Australian dairy cooperative literally bought back the farm when in 1997 it bought cheese brands, Coon, Cracker Barrel, Fred Walker and Mil Lel from Kraft (who also own Vegemite). It was all part of the brand portfolio rationalisation that followed Philip Morris Companies Inc’s (now Altria Group) acquisition of Kraft Foods Inc.

There was some clear logic in that wholesale shedding of cheeses. As a brand, Coon named after Dr Edward Coon who developed the process for the fast ripening of natural cheese, would have had some pretty dodgy connotation in other countries and especially south of the Mason Dickson Line in the US. The name has come under fire from some ill-informed folk here too in recent times, doubtless to the bemusement of the good Dr Coon’s family. But Dairy Farmers, as one of the largest producers of milk in the country at the time was always on the lookout for a manufacturing outlet for its milk. That of course has changed now. Dairy Farmers, older than Australian Federation, is now part of Japanese beer giant, Kirin. But then are we surprised? Iconic food companies are not the only ones to leave this wide brown land. Victa, Speedo and Driza-bone are just some of the Oz stalwarts that went offshore. Driza-bone emulated the Coon model and was bought back again by Australians.

But what is it with messing with Vegemite? The boffins at Kraft have added cream cheese to make a “new” product. Spare me! That original sinister, salty goo, declared as devil’s spawn by visitors and immigrants is our birth right. Even Britain’s gung-ho chef Sat Baines of Restaurant Sat Baines in Nottingham discovered it at last year’s Melbourne Food and Wine Festival. He used it in his cooking demonstrations to provide an local umani edge (the Japanese “fifth” taste sense) to his dishes.

The stuff has been around for 87 years and while food laws insist it carry a use-by date, in reality it surely must have a half-life of several thousand years. Come Armageddon it will be cockroaches, Moreton Bay figs and Vegemite that will survive…assuming nobody tampers with it or sells it.

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