Is marmalade really in decline?

On 17 January The Grocer reported, as it does with depressing regularity every January, that marmalade sales had fallen again, this year by 2.4% in value and 4.9% in volume. The culprits are always fingered as peanut butter and chocolate spread, whose relentless advance across the breakfast table seems in danger of eclipsing marmalade's very existence.

However, this year marmalade sales saw a bit of an upward blip, thanks to the release of the Paddington movie. A vein of marmalade runs right through the movie, from the wonderful Heath Robinson-style marmalade factory in the rainforest to the closing tableau, where the family kitchen is seen heaving with oranges (pedant that I am, they didn’t look like Sevilles) and Sally Hawkins saying dreamily ‘Every home should have a marmalade day.'

Within a week or two of the movie's release, Waitrose allegedly reported an 88% rise in marmalade sales, and Robertson’s – who produced the official tie-in marmalade – saw a 24% rise in Golden Shred. Happy news, although I’m a bit worried that it was caused by an entire generation of children saying, ‘What’s marmalade, Mummy?’

Felicity Cloake wrote this nice piece about it in the New Statesman, saying very much what I feel about marmalade becoming an endangered species:

‘I feel the British love of marmalade, a distinctly bitter preserve, chock full of chewy peel, says something valuable about the national character.’

So if it is in decline, what does that say about the state of the nation? Are we losing our backbone?

Maybe not.

I once heard an interview with Paddington author Michael Bond, who reckoned that the marmalade-in-decline story, which is trotted out every January, was invented by the manufacturers as a PR stunt. I’d like to believe him, but sadly I fear that the sales figures don’t lie.

What I'd like to believe instead is that the decline in sales is simply because more people are making their own, rejecting the over-jellied and blandly sweet commercial marmalades for the authentic joy of the homemade kind. There are hints that this may be the case. In past years, supermarkets have reported a rise in sales of Seville oranges; and the World Marmalade Awards, now in its 10th year, have seen the number of entries of homemade and artisan marmalade leap from around 50 jars in the first year to more than 2000 last year. If this is a reflection of how many people are taking up their wooden spoons, marmalade may not be in decline at all.

I will give the last word to this recent letter in The Times:

'Sir, The Grocer's report on falling marmalade sales may not be a true reflection of the preserve's popularity ("Marmalade is toast at home," Jan 22). I would venture that the homemade variety is on the rise. But what recipe to try each January? In our household at least, this question often results in Seville war.'
Morton Warner
Emeritus professor, University of South Wales


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