An Australian dairy company is fulfilling a 2020 promise to rebrand a popular cheese product that formerly shared a name with a racial slur.
Cheer Cheese, as its now called, was founded in 1935 under the brand name "Coon Cheese," said to be an homage to Edward William Coon, an American who patented a process for cheese maturation. This account, however, has been scrutinized over the last decade.
"I've questioned the authenticity of that story," Stephen Hagan, a lecturer at the University of Southern Queensland, told Australia Associated Press in 2020.
Hagan had been campaigning against the name for a decade at that point, and claimed that the cheese – which was formerly manufactured by both Kraft and Dairy Farmers Pty Ltd – used the word as a "joke" to go along with its black packaging, the Sydney Morning Herald reported.
In July 2020, after a "diligent review," Saputo Dairy Australia, which currently owns the brand, vowed to change the name. The announcement came amid calls to rebrand products and logos with problematic histories and racist connotations following the police-involved death of George Floyd in the U.S. back in May.
"After thorough consideration, Saputo has decided to retire the COON brand name. We are working to develop a new brand name that will honor the brand-affinity felt by our valued consumers while aligning with current attitudes and perspectives," wrote Saputo, in part, in a July announcement.
And on Wednesday, nearly six months later, Saputo debuted the product’s new name: Cheer Cheese.
"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," said Lino A. Saputo, chair and CEO of Saputo Inc., in a press release. "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 new name and packaging is expected to hit store shelves in July 2021.
Cheer Cheese now joins over a dozen brands, including Aunt Jemima, Uncle Ben’s, Eskimo Pie and Dixie Beer, among others, in ditching their old names, branding or imaging to combat racial biases.