Coon Cheese has been renamed Cheer Cheese after a long campaign by activists who said it had racist connotations.
- Saputo Dairy Australia said the name change would reinforce values of acceptance and respect
- The company’s website previously said the cheese was named after Edward Coon, who holds a patent for a cheese-making process
- But Dr Hagan said his research showed Mr Coon was an uneducated factory worker added to the patent 10 years after the cheese was sold
Saputo Dairy Australia, which owns the brand, confirmed it was changing the name in July last year following calls led by academic Stephen Hagan for a rebranding.
“I said that the cheese brand was offensive, I said that it demeans people of colour,” Dr Hagan told the ABC at the time.
“I said that it was unacceptable as a brand in 2020.”
As well as Dr Hagan’s long-running efforts to have the name changed, the campaign recently hit the headlines again last year when actor and comedian Josh Thomas raised a question on Twitter about the controversial brand.
Today, Saputo Dairy Australia announced the name was being changed to Cheer Cheese, with the rebranded packaging to hit supermarket shelves across the country by July.
“Treating people with respect and without discrimination is one of our basic principles, and it is imperative that we continue to uphold this in everything we do,” Saputo chief executive Lino A Saputo said.
“Our decision to change the name of Australia’s much-loved cheese reinforces this commitment to build a culture of acceptance, inclusion and respect where everyone feels a sense of belonging.”
The company’s commercial director, Cam Bruce, said the packaging would be similar to the current branding and the recipe would remain unchanged.
“Cheer Cheese will continue to be made locally in Victoria from Australian milk, supporting local dairy farmers,” he said.
He said the name was decided on after consumer research.
“Through our research, consumers endorsed this name,” Mr Bruce said.
“They told us the name connects them to how they feel when enjoying the cheese in their everyday life.
“We trust that our valued consumers, as well as those that are new to our products, will embrace the new name and what we stand for.”
Cheese’s history page taken down
Edward William Coon patented a process used to manufacture cheese in Philadelphia, in the United States, in 1926.
Saputo Dairy’s website used to feature a page explaining the history of the cheese, but that page removed in July.
The page explained the cheese was first manufactured in Australia in November 1935 and was wrapped in “traditional red waxed cloth”.
That lead to it becoming known as “Red Coon”, the page said.
But when Dr Hagan last spoke to the ABC about his campaign, he said the name had purely racist meanings.
The cheese was previously wrapped in black and given the name “Coon” as a joke, he said.
In an article published in The First Nations Telegraph in 2014, Dr Hagan said his research showed Edward Coon was actually an uneducated Russian immigrant who worked as a factory hand and the patent was launched in his name 10 years after the cheese was already being sold.
The term “coon” emerged during the time of slavery in the US. It has a long history of being used as a racist slur against people with dark skin.
Ferris State University’s Jim Crowe Museum of Racist Memorabilia says the coon caricature is “one of the most insulting of all anti-black caricatures”.
“The name itself, an abbreviation of raccoon, is dehumanising,” sociology professor David Pilgrim explains on the museum’s website.
Saputo Dairy said it decided to rename the cheese after a “careful and diligent review to honour the brand affinity felt by our consumers while aligning with current attitudes and perspectives”.
The Australian arm of the company is the largest dairy processor in the country, with other brands including Cracker Barrel, Devondale, Mersey Valley, and Tasmanian Heritage to its name.
It is part of Saputo Incorporated, which is among the top 10 dairy processors globally.