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Marmite shortage 'good publicity'

Published: 2:26PM Tuesday March 20, 2012 Source: Renee Girven

The announcement that stocks of Marmite are expected to run out within weeks has created "good publicity" for the product that will not backfire, a marketing expert believes.

Marmite is flying off the shelves around the country after Sanitarium warned New Zealanders to start spreading the 'jar of black gold' thinly.

Sanitarium said the spread is expected to run out within weeks after earthquake damage at the Sanitarium factory in Christchurch forced a shutdown in production.

Massey University's Head of Marketing, Professor Malcolm Wright, said he believed sales will be "stimulated by the scarcity and people will be rushed into buying it".

He said it was quite unusual to have pending stock of this magnitude, and said products usually come off the shelves due to a product harm crisis.

"But it will get Marmite a lot of brand attention and there will be little risk as long as they get stock back quick."

He said Kiwis see Marmite as "part of their lives" and the limited stock will serve as "good publicity".

"They may be concerned people will switch to Vegemite, which they will, but I doubt it will be persistent."

Wright said he does not think the public will think it is a public relations stunt or backfire on the company, because Sanitarium has a "pretty good reputation" with New Zealanders.

'Dodgy marketing ploy'

However, the Twitterverse is abuzz with claims it is simply a marketing stunt.

Philip Lyth tweeted that Countdown had only 30cm of shelf space for Marmite, yet it had around 180cm for Vegemite.

"Marketing campaign? No wonder!"

Dan News tweeted: "The pre-prepared, large glossy "Marmite is out of stock" signs in news reports point to this being a clever marketing stunt."

Bevan Ryken tweeted: "Did anybody else have Marmite on toast for breakfast this morning? I sure did! (I'm sure this is some kinda marketing voodoo trick on me!)"

But Jamie Anan said he was feeling smug that he favoured Vegemite saying "no dodgy marketing ploy gonna get me".

With supermarkets around the country already out of stock, the iconic New Zealand spread is now being auctioned off on Trade Me.

There are now more than a hundred listings for Marmite online and some have a "buy now" of  over a $799 for a jar normally costing $4.25.

Marmite is even making the headlines across the globe. UK newspaper The Guardian reported on New Zealanders shock over the shortage.

Quake-hit plant

The plant produces about 240,000kg of Marmite every year.

The damaged tower is attached to the Weetbix factory, and earlier this year Sanitarium had to halt manufacturing the cereal, while they shipped production up to a smaller factory in Auckland.

Sanitarium offered 36 workers redundancy in February as a result of the closure.

At the time it said Marmite machinery would be moved to another section in the factory that is safer, as the company intended to continue manufacturing the spread, at least in the short term.

Sanitarium general manager Pierre van Heerden said yesterday that work was happening to either identify a new building to house the Marmite factory in, or to carry out work on the tower as quickly as possible so staff could move back in.

Sanitarium has considered importing a similar yeast-based spread from abroad but says the taste is too different for Kiwi taste buds. 

"Marmite is a brand that Kiwis really love, it's been around for many years, and when people go overseas one of the first things they love is their Marmite," said Heerden.

"If you have it every day, maybe have it every second day, and don't go out there and panic buy because there are other Kiwis whose jars might not be as full as yours."

The company hopes to resume production in July.