1924 Kangaroo Butter shipped to England

UK advertising in the Daily Mirror, 16 February 1966

From the 1920s to the 1970s, when UK shoppers bought Australian butter, they could be excused for thinking that we milked kangaroos in this country. In 1924, the Commonwealth Government decreed that all exported butter should undergo strict quality assessment and carry the same distinctively Australian brand. The first shipment of Kangaroo Butter left Melbourne on 30 October that year on the steamer Moldavia.

The Manilla (NSW) Express reported that a Commonwealth expert needed to grade each shipment at 92 points or over to have the kangaroo brand burned on the boxes.

By giving careful attention to the “Kangaroo” brand, the Commonwealth Government hopes to obtain for it on the London market a similar high reputation to that which the Lur brand of Danish butter held.

While this may have marked the beginning of the brand, Australian butter had been  referred to as kangaroo butter in earlier times. A 1915 article in the Geelong Advertiser suggests that so-called “kangaroo butter” was undercutting the market in America.

Harrow Observer 1928

The 1924 shipment, however, marked the introduction of the brand to Britain. The following year, it was, according to the High Commissioner, selling very well. Initially, advertisements described it as “Australian Butter (Kangaroo Grade)”. By the mid-1930s, however, some were suggesting that the kangaroo branding and symbol applied to dairy foods were repugnant and hampering the sales of Australian butter in England. The supervisor of dairy products at the Department of Commerce scoffed at this, saying “The suggestion that some English people thought the butter was made from kangaroo’s milk was ridiculous…”.

During World War II, Britain was unable to obtain butter from its usual European sources and butter rationing was introduced. To some extent, this provided an opportunity for Australian butter exports although it was often difficult to find shipping. In the early 1950s, drought conditions in Australia had an impact on production and in 1951-52 exports fell to just 10,000 tons as compared to 150,000 tons in the late 1930s.

However, the following decade saw an increase in marketing efforts, with Kangaroo Butter strongly promoted in British newspapers as “All the best from Australia.” The Kangaroo brand lingered into the 1970s but, in 1973, the United Kingdom joined the European Economic Community and butter exports plunged by 90 per cent.

The UK’s exit from the European Union in 2016 changed this situation and a new  Australia-United Kingdom Free Trade Agreement (A-UKFTA) came into force in December 2021. This has allowed butter to be exported to the UK at a 0% tariff, based on a quota system. But the Kangaroo brand is no more.

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