SOURCE: Elias Visontay | The Guardian
The Australian cheese brand Coon will change its name to help “eliminate racism” following a campaign stating the product name was offensive to Indigenous Australians.
Friday’s announcement by Saputo, the dairy company that owns Coon, “to retire the Coon brand name”, comes after a decades-long effort to rename the cheese, including an unsuccessful 1999 complaint to the Australian Human Rights Commission from Indigenous activist Dr Stephen Hagan.
Hagan told the Guardian on Friday the decision was “a total vindication of 20 years of campaigning”.
Coon, along with other businesses, artists and cultural symbols, has come under fresh scrutiny over racial connotations in recent months as the Black Lives Matter movement gained momentum in Australia.
The brand, which was first sold in 1935, has long resisted calls to change its name, defending its historical decision to name the cheese after American cheesemaker Edward William Coon, who, according to the brand’s website, “patented a unique ripening process” used to make the dairy product.
A new name for Coon has not yet been decided, but Saputo said it was “working to develop a new brand name that will honour the brand-affinity felt by our valued consumers while aligning with current attitudes and perspectives”.
We believe we all share in the responsibility to eliminate racism in all its forms and we feel this is an important step we must take to uphold this commitment.
“At Saputo, one of our basic principles as an organisation is to treat people with respect and without discrimination and we will not condone behaviour that goes against this,” the company said in a statement.
“As such, we performed a careful and diligent review of a sensitive situation involving one of our brands. We wanted to ensure we listened to all the concerns surrounding the Coon brand name, while also considering comments from consumers who cherish the brand and recognise the origin of its founder Edward William Coon, which they feel connected to.
“We believe we all share in the responsibility to eliminate racism in all its forms and we feel this is an important step we must take to uphold this commitment.”
Hagan received a letter from Lino Saputo Jr – the chief executive of Saputo whose grandfather founded the Canadian company – on Friday morning ahead of the public announcement.
He said he’d previously questioned the story provided by Coon regarding its founder.
“I’ve told Dairy Farmers and Kraft (the previous owners) that I’d drop my campaign against the name if they can show me the credentials of this fellow (Edward William Coon),” Hagan said
“They call him a doctor, so why couldn’t they tell me what university he graduated from? Did he have any scientific journal entries?”
Hagan said the momentum created by the Black Lives Matter movement was a factor in the decision to finally change the name.
It’s from a past when everything was right and white, and I dared to challenge the status quo. They didn’t like that.
The criticism he previously received when campaigning for the rebranding was a sign of Australia’s racial sensitivity, he added.
“It’s from a past when everything was right and white, and I dared to challenge the status quo. They didn’t like that.”
“After all it’s just a little piece of cheese. It’s not like I have been asking them to cut their executives’ wages. The cheese will still taste the same.”
Hagan said after Friday’s announcement he was looking forward to visiting the dairy section of a supermarket and not having to see the word Coon on the shelf.
“I’ll be glad,” Hagan said.
Comment has been sought from Dairy Farmers and Kraft and additional comment has been sought from Saputo.