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New Zealand faces shortage of beloved breakfast spread

By Brian Walker, CNN
March 20, 2012 -- Updated 0435 GMT (1235 HKT)
New Zealand is facing a Marmite shortage after recent earthquakes in Christchurch forced a halt to production.
New Zealand is facing a Marmite shortage after recent earthquakes in Christchurch forced a halt to production.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Earthquakes knock out New Zealand's only source of Marmite
  • The salty breakfast spread is going for up to $60 online
  • Its manufacturer say the next batch won't be out before July

(CNN) -- In New Zealand, it's being called "Marmageddon."

The island nation is facing a dwindling stock of the beloved Marmite spread after recent earthquakes in Christchurch forced the manufacturer to shut down the only factory producing the stuff.

A spokesman for Sanitarium, the maker of the salty breakfast spread, says it has now run out of Marmite and it can't make any more until July at the earliest. That's caused a run on Marmite at markets all around New Zealand -- and reports of panic among customers who love the spread.

Sanitarium general manager Pierre van Heerden said people should face the hard fact that they'll need to conserve their Marmite and could try spreading it on toast rather than slices of bread out of the bag to make it last.

The company made the announcement Monday and has been surprised by the outpouring of concern.

"Supplies are starting to run out nationwide, and across the ditch in Australia," it posted on its website. "Don't freak. We will be back soon!"

The Countdown supermarket chain said that it has two to three weeks' supply on hand under normal conditions.

"We haven't seen any noticeable bulk-buying of Marmite as yet, but will not be enforcing a purchase limit," Murray Johnston, general manager for merchandise for Countdown's parent Progressive Enterprises, told CNN.

Statements like that might also be sparking a speculative Marmite rush. Bidders at online auction site TradeMe were willing to pay up to $60 New Zealand dollars ($50 U.S.) for a bottle, with some touting the thick paste as "Black Gold" in their listings.

One enterprising would-be Marmite miser was asking for $799 for a package, while others were trying to sell off half-empty containers as "emergency stashes."

Van Heerden says that he's not worried about Marmite fans defecting to rival Vegemite, from Kraft Foods in Australia.

"The differences between Vegemite and Marmite are quite significant," he said. "People have really strong feelings about the taste and a love-or-hate relationship with them."

He adds that he's not overly concerned about losing market share despite the prospect of being off the shelves for several months.

"We have a strong consumer base, and most are saying they will wait for us to come back with knives at the ready," van Heerden said.

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