The Indigenous activist who was behind the campaign that led Coon cheese to be renamed has said he has copped obscene abuse from “rednecks” since the new brand was announced earlier today.
Dr Stephen Hagan said despite his campaign – that has spanned decades – he was given no warning by the brand’s Canadian owners of the announcement and saw it first on the news.
“Since then, I’ve had phone calls and emails from good old redneck Australians still holding onto a lily white view of Australia where there are no challenges to their status quo,” he said.
“Well, I’m happy to disrupt that.”
In July last year, Saputo Australia, which inherited the brand five years ago when it bought Victoria’s Warrnambool Cheese and Butter Company, said the name would change.
On Wednesday morning, the firm announced that the 80-year-old brand would soon be known as “Cheer” cheese. The packaging will remain identical.
Talking to Channel 7’s Sunrise from Miami, Lino A Saputo, the chair and chief executive officer of Saputo Inc, said it was a “challenging” decision to rename, because Coon was such a well-known brand in Australia.
“Although we’ve only owned it since 2015 it was important for us to understand that name did not please other consumers,” he said.
Responding to criticism the brand was named after a cheese processor, Edward William Coon, rather than a racist slur, and therefore should stay, Mr Saputo said you couldn’t ignore what the name had become.
“You want to have a culture that is fully inclusive, where everyone feels like they’re accepted, where everyone feels like they’re respected,” he explained.
“We thought there was no harm in changing the name.”
PACKAGING SHOULD HAVE CHANGED TOO
Talking to news.com.au, Mr Hagan, who has co-written a book about the fromage fisticuffs called Coon: More Holes than Swiss cheese, said he was “relieved” the brand was to be banished.
“I‘m happy with the name change; the new name doesn’t worry me but I wish they’d changed the packaging too.
“If you look at the packaging quickly, you’d think it was still Coon cheese.”
He said he was disappointed Saputo and its predecessors had justified the name’s continuation because of the link to the original Mr Coon. But that link, he said, was tenuous at best.
“I’ve never had a problem with someone by the name Mr Coon; the problem has always been this myth that Coon cheese is from Edward William Coon.”
There’s no doubt a cheese maker called Mr Coon existed. The American was granted a patent in the US in 1926 for his method of rapidly ripening cheese using humidity and high temperatures.
It became known as the “cooning” method.
However, the Australian cheese was named only “in recognition” of Mr Coon, rather than the product being directly descended from the man himself or his company. Indeed, Saputo has removed the page from the Coon website relating to the brand’s history.
According to Mr Hagan, Coon cheese had such a weak link to Mr Coon it wasn’t even made using the cooning method.
This would have led to the cheese having large amounts of visible mould on the surface and a sharp taste, whereas Coon is uniformly yellow with a mild flavour.
RELATED: All the ‘racist’ names being changed
RACIST ABUSE FROM ‘REDNECKS’
He said that over the years he’s experienced ongoing abuse, including death threats, due to his campaign. And today was no different.
“I’ve been getting obscene calls and criticism from these armchair critics. But when people call me up and criticise they just hear a click. I have no time for rednecks,” he said.
“The real bad ones, like death threats, I send to the police.
“I think the abuse is pretty much indicative of wider Australia. Australia is a racist country.
“But it’s time for them to move on. We’re not living in the White Australia of the 1960s; we’re living in a multicultural Australia now.”
With Coon renamed, Mr Hagan has another company in his sights – toy maker Mattel. In particular, the age old board game Scrabble.
Mr Hagan said racist words could be use to score points in the game as Mattel endorsed the Collins dictionary which defines a number of slurs.
He has called for offensive words to be excluded from Scrabble’s official word list that is used in tournaments.
Rival Hasbro, which owns the North American rights to the historic British game, has already said slurs cannot score points in its Scrabble rules.
Coon, which will become Cheer in July, is the latest in a series of brands that have been renamed due to them being called out as racist.
Allen’s Red Skins and Chicos lollies will become Red Ripper and Cheekies respectively this year.
Owner Nestle said the names were “out of step with the company’s values”.