21 Feb 2017

Finding Rosemary: The inventor of Kiwi onion dip

From Jesse Mulligan, 1–4pm, 1:15 pm on 21 February 2017

After a long and strange search, writer for the Spinoff Hayden Donnell, finally tracked down the inventor of Kiwi onion dip.

Her name is Rosemary Dempsey. Back in the early 1960s Rosemary was employed by Nestle in its test kitchen. It was there that alchemy happened. 

Finding Rosemary: In search of the unsung hero who invented Kiwi Onion Dip.

Finding Rosemary: In search of the unsung hero who invented Kiwi Onion Dip. Photo: Nestle

“Every month AC Nielsen would give us a run down on the sales of products and onion soup was really bringing up the rear, it was quite a poor seller and I thought we need to do something with that,” Rosemary says.

So she started to experiment, eventually she chanced upon combining the soup mix with reduced cream.

It was the moment these two unlovely and unloved ingredients came together that Hayden says is on a par with the “splitting of the atom”.

When Hayden first tried to track Rosemary down, Nestle told him she was dead, and that she'd never married or had children.

All of this information was quite false.

Rosemary, 85, is alive, well and lives in an Epsom retirement village.

After a long fruitless search Hayden struck gold.

“I put up a Facebook post and everything changed.”

Rosemary’s grandniece saw the post and got in touch.

“I was amazed! I find the whole thing rather overwhelming when you think about it, it’s 55 years since I first produced it,” Rosemary says.

To this day Rosemary’s invention is popular and the two mixer products remain on New Zealand supermarket shelves. Rosemary is no fan of condensed milk either. 

“Who would want to use it for anything else?”

The recipe for the dip soon caught on, the message spread using tried and trusted techniques.

“We had advertising, we had pamphlets we had demonstrations in the test kitchen where women’s groups would come.”

And the sales grew and grew, she says.

“I loved going to the AC Nielsen [sales] meetings every month because I’d see the onion soup sales going up and the reduced cream going up. I enjoyed it.”

So is she proud?

“I’m delighted I think it’s wonderful and I’m so thrilled for my grand -children because the can say hey! My grandmother did that!”

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