A fine spread

Marmite leaps from the kitchen cupboard to the forefront of design this season, says Annie Deakin
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The Independent Online

Love it or hate it, the iconic brand Marmite is hijacking the home shops next season. As new Autumn/Winter collections filter onto the shelves this week, it's impossible to ignore the widespread recognizable iconography of Marmite. "People want it in other parts of their lives beyond just on their bread," Noam Buchaltr, Marmite's marketing manager, told me yesterday. Forward thinking stores, including Heal's, Fenwicks, John Lewis and Debenhams, are going mad for Marmite.

It's no real surprise that Marmite is a hit the same year that the Union Jack has hiked up the trend ranks. With the recession in full throttle, consumers crave nostalgia and Britishness. "The bulb shaped jar and label have barely changed since it was first created over 100 years ago so are well recognized. Marmite has a really strong design identity and has been in people's hearts from childhood. It makes sense that people love it," says Buchaltr.

Until a few years ago, Marmite was simply the dark sticky paste spread on toast. The goo is certainly not a looker - Bill Bryson described it as "an edible yeast extract with the visual properties of an industrial lubricant" - but it's labeling is iconic. Then the savvy team at Marmite created limited editions featuring champagne, then Guinness and most recently version for the Ashes with a cricket ball shaped jar. Even if some Brits don't like the taste, almost all love the brand; it's part of our culture. Their first non-food product - a Marmite branded cycling top featuring the message "Hate jams!" (double pun, get it?) - was a huge success. They now sell a kitchenware collection including place mats, cake tins, mugs and plates.

"Rather than just slapping the Marmite logo onto products, we decided to experiment with its design iconography with a Pop Art style. It's one of our most successful ranges," says Buchaltr. New to John Lewis this season are Pop Art Marmite canvases while pastel-coloured Pop Art Marmite egg cups, trays and cake tins are at Rockett St George.

"It is becoming an increasingly popular trend to design interior products based on the theme 'what goes around, comes around', and the revival of the classic Marmite brand is a great twist on vintage style," says Sarah Theobold, Buyer at Debenhams who is selling (new this season) a funky Marmite toast rack (£12.50) and retro jar (£10). "When rejuvenated with bright, bold colours, this adds a fun, modern edge to the timeless British symbol."

Across at Heal's, the focus is on British produce and Marmite is certainly just that. "There is definitely a trend for nostalgia at the moment and Marmite is a national institution with a funky design," says Kelly-Ann Teasdale, spokesperson for Heal's. In addition to a vintage-style Marmite cookbook, Heal's sell the limited edition Dualit Marmite two slice toaster (£115) embossed with the distinctive Marmite font. And it's perfect companion? A vintage-style Marmite shaped teapot (£46) from Sally Curtis' Yorkshire mail-order company Pheasant.

"You either love it or hate it and acquire that mantle as a toddler through your parents," asserts Buchaltr. "It stays with you for life and when you grow up, you give to your children - so passes on." Personally, I love it. Such is my loyalty that in 2006, I feasted on a three-course Marmite dinner at celebrity chef Gary Rhodes' London restaurant as part of squeezy Marmite launch. Even the coffee ice cream was topped with chocolate sauce with a dash of Marmite.

Ever since the beginning of the twentieth century, Marmite has been a well loved part of everyday lives in Britain. It was included in First World War soldiers' rations, fed to prisoners of war in the Second World War and sent to peacekeeping troops in Kosovo to boost morale in 1999. As during wartime, we welcome old, comforting childhood brands during a recession. It gives a warm and fuzzy feeling inside to think of an old staple hijacking the design scene during the financial gloom. That'll be my mate, Marmite.