Vegemite comes home to Australia under Bega-Mondelez deal

SYDNEY (Reuters) - After more than 90 years, the popular Australian Vegemite brand is coming home.

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Bega Cheese BGA.AX will be the new owner of the spread following its deal to buy most of Mondelez International's MDLZ.O grocery brands in Australia and New Zealand for A$460 million ($345 million).

The deal returns the salty, slightly bitter spread to full local ownership for the first time since 1926. Developed by a young Australian chemist from brewer’s yeast, Vegemite has a huge following of customers who have grown up with it and was famously referenced in the Men at Work song “Land Down Under”.

“The wonderful heritage and values that Vegemite represents and its importance to Australian culture makes its combination with Bega Cheese truly exciting,” said Bega Cheese Executive Chairman Barry Irvin.

He described the deal, which includes other brands like Kraft peanut butter and Mac & Cheese, as “company making”.

While the British favorite Marmite has a presence in the yeast-based spreads market in Australia, it is Vegemite that dominates it, with over 300,000 jars produced each day. It is found in 90 percent of Australian homes.

Vegemite’s homecoming was applauded by Australians on social media too amid a climate of renewed vigor for Australian assets to be in local hands.

In 2016, the government blocked Chinese led-groups from buying cattle and pastoral group S. Kidman & Co, owner of the country’s largest private landholding. It was eventually sold to a consortium led by Australia’s richest woman, Gina Rinehart.

Dick Smith, the owner of OzEmite, which is marketed heavily as a homegrown alternative to Vegemite, told Reuters he was “delighted” Vegemite was back in Australian hands.

“I can’t wait for Arnott’s to be bought back and Aeroplane Jelly and Redheads Matches,” he said of other foreign-owned Australian favorites.

“Hopefully this is the start of buying back the farm so the wealth stays here for our children and grandchildren.”

Bega said it would fund the deal initially with debt and it would be “strongly” accretive to earnings per share. Shares in the company rose more than 13 percent after news of the deal.

Mondelez, a spin-off from Kraft Foods, said the sale would allow it to further focus on brands like Cadbury Dairy Milk, Oreo Biscuits and Philadelphia cream cheese.

Bega Cheese could not comment immediately on whether it would look at opportunities to extend the reach of the Vegemite brand. In 2009, Kraft launched a creamier take on Vegemite, iSnack 2.0, but it was quickly removed from shelves after being widely derided by Australians.

($1 = 1.3316 Australian dollars)

Reporting by Jamie Freed; Editing by Himani Sarkar