The world's greatest spread underwent some frightening changes recently. Hayden Donnell delves into the animosity and legal wrangling behind the death and rebirth of Kraft Peanut Butter.
The world of marketing is riven with betrayal. Taste the rainbow. The best a man can get. Don't be evil. All broken promises. There's only one tagline that's undisputedly accurate. That nugget of truth? "Never oily, never dry" – slogan of the greatest spread in the world, Kraft peanut butter.
Kraft makes other peanut butters seem like jars of three-day-old sick by comparison. Sanitarium: you'd have to be an utter peanut butter nutter to contemplate buying it. Eta: the Eminem-esque to Kraft's Lose Yourself. Pic's: pure. Organic. Ethical. Still like eating bark out of your local children's playground when you measure it against Kraft's kaleidoscope of taste.
You can imagine the slow-dawning panic, then, when Kraft peanut butter lovers noticed something weird started happening to our life-giving spread earlier this year. It was a subtle change. Kraft's place in the supermarket aisle was still bright with the familiar wall of yellow lids. The same red and blue trim adorned the spread's crunchy and smooth incarnations. But a closer look revealed something was amiss. The jars were simpler, less busy. Their smiling Kraft bear was gone. An imposter had taken Kraft's place, like a reptilian shapeshifter occupying a human skinsuit. Kraft peanut butter has become Bega peanut butter.
I noticed the change almost immediately upon landing back in New Zealand a month ago after some time away. Seeing the name Bega where Kraft used to be threw me off kilter. It was like taking a wrong turn and ending up in Madagascar. Questions raced through my mind. What had happened? Was Kraft still safe to buy? More importantly, was it still the Kraft I knew and loved?
I went home and Googled "Kraft peanut butter + New Zealand", expecting some kind of relief, or at least a few answers. What I uncovered was a war ballooning on multiple fronts, replete with bitter accusations, legal battles, trademark disputes, and existential debates about the essential nature of peanut butter.
It turned out Kraft peanut butter's slow walk to into the abyss began in 2012, when Kraft split into two. The original Kraft – a mostly evil corporation headed by Boston Patriots owner Robert Kraft – wanted to focus on selling cheese in North America. The newly formed Mondelez corporation took control of beloved brands including Cadbury chocolate, and in Australasia only, Vegemite and Kraft peanut butter. Mondelez – which was no longer associated with Kraft – resented having to pay Kraft to produce Kraft peanut butter. It decided to sell the rights to the spread, along with its original recipe, to Bega – an Australian company run for many years by a confessed paedophile.
Through this labyrinthine series of business sales and acquisitions, the original Kraft peanut butter landed in the hands of a company completely separate from Kraft. With no obligation to carry on selling it under the Kraft brand name. Bega began taking Kraft off Kraft peanut butter jars at the end of 2017, replacing it with its own brandname. To be clear, the spread being sold in New Zealand and Australian supermarkets as Bega peanut butter is the true Kraft peanut butter – produced in the original Kraft factory according to the original Kraft recipe.
That should've been the end of it. But Kraft eventually woke up to the entirely legal heist executed under its cheese-obsessed nose. It's disputing Bega's decision to retain much of Kraft's distinctive yellow jar design, and has launched legal action against Bega for "blatant violation of Kraft's intellectual property rights". At the same time, the company has re-entered the Australian market under its old brand name – Kraft peanut butter – in packaging that looks exactly like that of Bega peanut butter. In Australia, a new Kraft peanut butter is now in direct competition with Bega peanut butter, which is actually the spread customers know and love as the original, canonical, Kraft peanut butter.
What does that mean for us in New Zealand? My extensive taste-testing has revealed Bega appears to have been telling the truth when it claimed to be exactly the same as the iconic Kraft peanut butter. We haven't truly lost Kraft. Instead we have retained it in a new form, like Gandalf the Grey returning as Gandalf the White.
Meanwhile, Kraft is promising to enter New Zealand again, sparking mass confusion in our supermarkets but offering a potentially beautiful new variation on the already perfect flavour profile of Bega (nee Kraft) peanut butter. What looked disconcertingly like an ending is actually a new beginning. Out of the ashes of Kraft peanut butter, a new golden age of peanut butter is being born. The peanut butter king is dead. Long live the peanut butter kings.
Disillusioned with the murky world of supermarket peanut butter? The Spinoff's very own Simon Day has a solution – make your own. Check out how here.
Hayden Donnell is a staff writer at The Spinoff.