Skip to content

The Marmite Syndrome

Marmite could be the yeast of Britain’s post-Brexit problems, and it might well spread.

Please pardon the double pun, but the only event that excited Fleet Street today was the disappearance of Marmite from many supermarket shelves.  Marmite, I should mention for happily ignorant foreign readers, is a savoury yeast spread beloved of many Brits (though equally hated by the rest, including this writer).

This odd phenomenon – Marmite’s disappearance, that is, not the epicurean devotion that it commands – has occurred as a result of a dispute between Marmite’s manufacturer, Unilever, and its distributors, notably the Tesco supermarket chain, over the price of the product.  Tesco is refusing to stock the stuff because Unilever has raised the price by 10 per cent. 

Marmite is like Brexit inasmuch as it divides the nation.  No research has been done, so far as I know, on whether Marmite tends to be loved by Leavers but reviled by Remainers – or indeed vice versa – but now may be a good time to discover the truth of the matter, because resolving the burning political issue of this British generation may well depend on it.

By way of background, Unilever, a huge Anglo-Dutch food concern, raised the price of Marmite to reflect the recent sharp decline in the value of the pound.  I had assumed, by the way, and still assume, that this supposedly quintessential British product is actually made in Britain, so one must question Unilever’s action …. but that is another story.  Tesco responded by claiming, in what some would say is a rare display of concern for its customers, that by hiking the price of Marmite and other popular products, Unilever is exploiting the exchange rate for no better reason than corporate greed.    

That may well be the case, but what the price of Marmite has to do with the continuing Brexit debate is simply stated.  Marmite may well be the first of many products that will rise in price following the fall of the pound.  For a nation that imports almost half its food, inflation is a natural and predictable consequence of a fall in its currency.  And not just on food, of course. Britain imports more than it exports on a wide range of consumer goods.

By the time the current phase of the pound’s decline and import-driven inflation has run its course, the Brexiters may well be having second thoughts about leaving the European Union.  The price of Marmite would not be a valid reason for a mass changing of minds, but it might also be said that valid reasons played less of a role in the anti-EU movement than its leaders cared to admit.  It’s all very well ‘taking back control’ of Britain’s destiny, but what the Brexit voters were not told was that it comes at a price – the price of a jar of Marmite, for a start.

Today Marmite, tomorrow Branston pickle (the latter now made in the Netherlands, I understand) and perhaps HP sauce (which for all I know is made in Vietnam.  In short, this Marmite Moment could spell the end of culinary civilization as we Brits have come to know it. 

On a more serious note – as if price gouging on Marmite were not serious enough – the Brexiteers do need to consider what they have wrought.  The pound is not down 20 per cent because foreign exchange traders have decided to pick on it as their ‘short sale of the month’ but because the global financial markets believe that Britain is going to be in for a rougher ride in leaving the EU than Brexit voters have been led to expect.   The much despised and ridiculed ‘Project Fear’ message may be moving closer to reality than many will find comfortable. 

That Brexit has led to a devalued currency and price inflation on imported goods is no surprise to those who understand the way markets work.  On the other face of the same token, it may well have come as a shock to those who don’t.  At least British exporters are happy – though I’m not sure how much Marmite is exported.   

The falling pound may of course be no more than a hiccup in the Brexit limbo in which Britain now languishes – currency values go up and down all the time, as Brexiters have hastened to point out – but it might portend a more serious digestive problem.

A jar of Marmite going from £2.50 to £3 may be neither here not there in the greater scheme of things, but it may turn out to be an unlikely symbol of more troubled economic times ahead.

All I can say is “Pass the marmalade”.

The Marmite Syndrome

 

Marmite could be the yeast of Britain’s post-Brexit problems, and it might well spread.

Please pardon the double pun, but the only event that excited Fleet Street today was the disappearance of Marmite from many supermarket shelves.  Marmite, I should mention for happily ignorant foreign readers, is a savoury yeast spread beloved of many Brits (though equally hated by the rest, including this writer).

This odd phenomenon – Marmite’s disappearance, that is, not the epicurean devotion that it commands – has occurred as a result of a dispute between Marmite’s manufacturer, Unilever, and its distributors, notably the Tesco supermarket chain, over the price of the product.  Tesco is refusing to stock the stuff because Unilever has raised the price by 10 per cent. 

Marmite is like Brexit inasmuch as it divides the nation.  No research has been done, so far as I know, on whether Marmite tends to be loved by Leavers but reviled by Remainers – or indeed vice versa – but now may be a good time to discover the truth of the matter, because resolving the burning political issue of this British generation may well depend on it.

By way of background, Unilever, a huge Anglo-Dutch food concern, raised the price of Marmite to reflect the recent sharp decline in the value of the pound.  I had assumed, by the way, and still assume, that this supposedly quintessential British product is actually made in Britain, so one must question Unilever’s action …. but that is another story.  Tesco responded by claiming, in what some would say is a rare display of concern for its customers, that by hiking the price of Marmite and other popular products, Unilever is exploiting the exchange rate for no better reason than corporate greed.    

That may well be the case, but what the price of Marmite has to do with the continuing Brexit debate is simply stated.  Marmite may well be the first of many products that will rise in price following the fall of the pound.  For a nation that imports almost half its food, inflation is a natural and predictable consequence of a fall in its currency.  And not just on food, of course. Britain imports more than it exports on a wide range of consumer goods.

By the time the current phase of the pound’s decline and import-driven inflation has run its course, the Brexiters may well be having second thoughts about leaving the European Union.  The price of Marmite would not be a valid reason for a mass changing of minds, but it might also be said that valid reasons played less of a role in the anti-EU movement than its leaders cared to admit.  It’s all very well ‘taking back control’ of Britain’s destiny, but what the Brexit voters were not told was that it comes at a price – the price of a jar of Marmite, for a start.

Today Marmite, tomorrow Branston pickle (the latter now made in the Netherlands, I understand) and perhaps HP sauce (which for all I know is made in Vietnam.  In short, this Marmite Moment could spell the end of culinary civilization as we Brits have come to know it. 

On a more serious note – as if price gouging on Marmite were not serious enough – the Brexiteers do need to consider what they have wrought.  The pound is not down 20 per cent because foreign exchange traders have decided to pick on it as their ‘short sale of the month’ but because the global financial markets believe that Britain is going to be in for a rougher ride in leaving the EU than Brexit voters have been led to expect.   The much despised and ridiculed ‘Project Fear’ message may be moving closer to reality than many will find comfortable. 

That Brexit has led to a devalued currency and price inflation on imported goods is no surprise to those who understand the way markets work.  On the other face of the same token, it may well have come as a shock to those who don’t.  At least British exporters are happy – though I’m not sure how much Marmite is exported.   

The falling pound may of course be no more than a hiccup in the Brexit limbo in which Britain now languishes – currency values go up and down all the time, as Brexiters have hastened to point out – but it might portend a more serious digestive problem.

A jar of Marmite going from £2.50 to £3 may be neither here not there in the greater scheme of things, but it may turn out to be an unlikely symbol of more troubled economic times ahead.

All I can say is “Pass the marmalade”.

Published inUncategorized

One Comment

  1. James Keck James Keck

    Justus von Liebig probably had no idea about his Marmite product ever causing a problem for Unilever and some grocery store let alone Britain. He and the Deutchmark of his day would have taken little notice of the price of the British Pound as he probably would not have understood the need of a European Union. Not to worry though as the US$ won’t be far behind the Pound.

    Best to Martha.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.