THE renaming of Coon cheese, after a campaign by an Aboriginal activist, has surprised Wodonga dairy company chief Linda Coon.
Canadian company Saputo announced on Friday it was dumping its Coon brand which was named after American pioneering cheese processor Edward William Coon who died in 1934.
The decision followed a long fight by Indigenous activist Stephen Hagan who told The Border Mail on Monday that the name was a “racial slur” and he had “question marks over the authenticity of it” being adopted.
In flagging its step, Saputo stated: “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.”
Ms Coon said she was surprised at the action of Saputo, which owns the Tangambalanga dairy plant.
“I always thought that one would stay when all this came about, but each to their own,” Ms Coon said.
“It was obviously named after Edward William Coon, maybe because he’s longer around it makes it a little easier to change.”
Ms Coon defended her family moniker which has had long been considered an offensive label for black people.
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“I don’t find my surname racist at all, I was born with it and we’ve used it for 30 years to trade under,” she said.
Ms Coon’s parents began the business under their names K W & S Coon in 1985 and its Coons Dairy trucks today deliver Riverina Fresh milk around the Border and North East.
She said nobody had directly complained about the name, but there had been some queries from people who she said were fine with it when she explained it was the family name.
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Her late father Kevin Coon was interviewed by Sydney radio host John Laws about his surname when Dr Hagan was raising concerns 20 years ago about the cheese brand which has been owned by Kraft and Dairy Farmers.
Dr Hagan said he did not have a problem with Coon appearing on delivery trucks as opposed to being on cheese packets.
“If it’s somebody’s name and they’re Australian I’m not too interested,” he said.
“If there is a bona fide family named Coon on the Border doing business well good luck to them.”
Saputo has not given a timeframe for the change and does not have a replacement for Coon, stating “we are 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”.
Ms Coon said she thought Saputo would have had a new name ready to launch given the magnitude of the move and likely outcry.