We’re knee-deep in the brown sticky stuff. Love it or loathe it, Marmite is as divisive as Brexit - and has become an unlikely emblem of the impact of the decision to leave.
Manufacturer Unilever wants to put up the wholesale price of Marmite by 10% - its key UK customer, Tesco, says no, resulting in an unseemly brawl between two industry giants. That price hike results from the fallout of the “Out” vote - a weaker pound pushing up import costs - rather than the Brexit process itself.
Or is Unilever pulling a fast one? The pound is down around 15% since 23rd June but Marmite is manufactured in Staffordshire (after, ironically, being invented by a German scientist). But the sterling cost of any ingredients imported for the yeast extract may have risen sharply.
And Unilever may be spreading the pain - its vast stable of brands ranges from Hellmans mayo to Dove soap (Unilever isn't bothered if you’re dithering between French or English mustard; it makes both Maille and Colmans). The costs of manufacturing some lines is likely to have risen more than others.
Who will win? Tesco has a reputation for taking a tough line with suppliers, and fiercely guards the sector-leading 5%+ profit margin it has traditionally enjoyed. A dent in that, thanks to one of its biggest suppliers, won't be swallowed easily by the shareholders it’s desperately trying to woo. Also, Tesco CEO Dave Lewis used to be the boss of Unilever; he’s well-placed to know how to exert pressure.
But Unilever knows that customers' attachment to brands makes supermarkets reliant on them to drive footfall in the bitter battle for market share. No surprise, then, that some of Tesco's rivals have apparently decided to live with the hikes - even if it means passing on higher prices to customers. For them, the publicity surrounding this row couldn't come at a better time, if shoppers are turning to them instead.
Whoever blinks first, is this just be a taste of what may be to come? Over half of our food is imported, over 70% of that from the EU. Once Article 50 is detonated and the dust settles on the trade talks, we may have to resort to applying the same tariffs to imports from the EU as elsewhere. DEFRA estimates that could make the foodstuffs affected 11% more expensive. There’s a lot at steak.