The marmite story and how they were sustainable 105 years before anyone else.


Flash back to AD 1870, when Napoleon III was fighting the Prussians. Both food supplies and morale were low. Napoleon’s armies couldn’t march on empty stomachs, they needed a solution quickly. One million cans of beef were ordered, to feed the starving troops and the task went to Englishman named John Lawson Johnston.

Marmite can - a sutainable developmentBovril – “cow in a can”

Although the order was swiftly accepted, the UK wasn’t able to produce the vast quantities of beef to meet French demands. Johnston, being the entrepreneur he was, discovered a way to feed everyone by creating “Johnston’s Fluid Beef” or “cow in a can.”

Victorian Internationalism

Flash forward to the year 1888. Over 3,000 pubs, green grocers and chemists stocked the legendary Bovril and in the subsequent year, the Bovril company was formed.

To meet demand, Johnston based Bovril’s operations in Argentina and at the height of the Bovril empire, the company owned ranches that were equivalent to half the size of Great Britain, which sustained over 1.5 million livestock.
Bovril was leading the way, but then…

A scientific breakthrough!

Scientific breakthrough - brewer's yeast

…Brewer’s Yeast.

While Beef was being liquidized and being packaged into cans, a Dutch scientist by the name of Leouwanhoek examined brewer’s yeast with a microscope and discovered that it was in fact, made up of tiny little cells. The French scientist Louis Pasteur then realised these cells were in fact living plants. They had discovered the potential nutritional benefits of brewer’s yeast, an important step to discovering marmite.

However, it was in only Germany that a scientist called Liebig discovered that brewer’s yeast cells could be concentrated, bottled and eaten.


In 1902, Marmite Food Company was set up next to brewery in Burton on Trent, where they used waste brewer’s yeast to create a competitor to Bovril. Their costs were low and they aggressively pursued market share.

As Wikipedia states, their popularity was initially due to the discovery of vitamins:

“By 1912, the discovery of vitamins was a boost for Marmite, as the spread is a rich source of the vitamin B complex; vitamin B12 is not naturally found in yeast extract, but is added to Marmite during manufacture.”

The basic production method has changed little since Marmite was first invented. Basically, the used brewer’s yeast is broken down to release soluble amino acids and proteins. This soluble material is then concentrated and filtered a few times before going through a unique (and top secret) process for flavour development.

Marmite VS Bovril

BovrilPhoto: MarmitePhoto:

Two world wars later, and both brands are still around today. Marmite however, dominates the extract spreads. Anyway, I forgot to mention that somewhere along the way Marmite was bought by Bovril years ago, but that’s another story.

Love it or hate it, I think Marmite is here to stay.

If you find this information useful and would like to get daily updates, feel free to subscribe to our RSS feed.