Fred Walker (entrepreneur)

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Fred Walker (5 January 1884 – 21 July 1935) was an Australian businessman and founder of Fred Walker & Co. The company is best known for creating Vegemite, a food paste and Australian cultural icon.[1]

Biography[edit]

Walker was born in Melbourne and won a scholarship to attend Caulfield Grammar School.[2] He worked in the food import and export industry, and founded Fred Walker & Co in Hong Kong in 1903. He served in the Australian Military Forces from 1908 to 1918, before returning to his business. The company began manufacturing Red Feather canned foods and bonox, a beef extract product still produced today, and grew to operate around Australia and in New Zealand.[3]

In 1923, Walker hired chemist Cyril P. Callister to develop a yeast extract product to compete with the similar English product Marmite. Vegemite was first sold in 1924[1] after Walker's daughter Sheilah selected the winning entry from a public competition to name the product.[4][5] After poor sales performance, Walker changed the product's name to Parwill (a joking reference to Marmite: "Ma might, but Pa will") before returning to Vegemite.[6] In 1935, customers were given a free jar of Vegemite with every Fred Walker & Co product purchased, and the popularity of the spread grew steadily after this promotion.[5] The success of the product was assured during the Second World War when Vegemite, due to its high vitamin B content, was chosen to be included in Australian soldier ration packs and the English product Marmite was pulled from the market. [2]

Walker began a partnership with American businessman James L. Kraft to manufacture processed cheese in 1925, and by 1930 was chairman of Kraft Walker Cheese Co, a separate company from Fred Walker & Co but managed by the same staff. He was also successful at attracting staff by offering workers social club, allowing for morning tea breaks from manufacturing, providing first aid and canteen facilities, and modern work systems that increased employee productivity.[3] In later life he served as the president of the Melbourne Rotary Club (1933–34), and he was also a director of the local YMCA. He was married and had one daughter, Sheila.[3]

Death[edit]

Walker died of heart disease in 1935. Fred Walker & Co was eventually purchased by Kraft Foods following Walker's death.[3]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Prime Minister of Australia (2008). Australian Icons. Retrieved 9 April 2008.
  2. ^ Kraft Foods (2008). Fred Walker. Retrieved 9 April 2008.
  3. ^ a b c d Australian Dictionary of Biography (2008). Walker, Fred. Retrieved 9 April 2008.
  4. ^ "Fred Walker, Founder". Kraft Foods. 2010. Retrieved 23 April 2013. 
  5. ^ a b Vegemite (2008). Facts & Fiction. Retrieved 9 April 2008.
  6. ^ Vegemite (2008). Vegemite Discovery Archived July 19, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.. Retrieved 9 April 2008.