24 Jun 2020

New Zealand treats renamed over racist overtones

6:48 pm on 24 June 2020

As the Black Lives Matter movement sweeps the consumer market, Afghan biscuits, Eskimo Pie ice cream, and Chicos and Red Skins lollies are getting new identities on supermarket shelves.

The Eskimo Pie ice creams will be renamed because of the name's racist overtones.

The Eskimo Pie ice creams will be renamed because of the name's racist overtones. Photo: Like The Grand Canyon / Flikr / Creative Commons (CC BY-NC 2.0)

The hasty renaming is prompting celebration from some shoppers but scepticism from some experts, as brands reassert their commitment to respect.

Nestle announced the name change for Chicos and Red Skins lollies yesterday, which are sold under the brand name Allen's in New Zealand, to ensure "friends, neighbours and colleagues" weren't marginalised.

It said the names had overtones which were "out of step with Nestle's values, which are rooted in respect".

Griffin's said today it was in the process of finding a new name for its Afghan biscuits, which could be named in reference to the 19th century Afghan wars, although it acknowledged "there are other theories in circulation".

This afternoon, Tip Top also pledged to rename its Eskimo Pie ice cream bars and remove the eskimo character printed on the packet within the next few months, because the name had "changed meaning" since the product was introduced in 1940.

Pascall's has also announced it will be changing the name of its eskimo lollies.

Melanie Sharma-Barrow, a consultant whose firm educates companies on diversity and culture, said brands should set a good example.

"When you're at the supermarket you want to feed your family, you want to feed yourself. It's really difficult to ask New Zealanders to make that choice of awareness. It's hard enough to make people think about the language they use," she said.

The contention around Eskimo Pie and eskimo lollies dates back at least as far as 2009, when Christchurch-based l'Université de Montréal academic Nicole Gombay drew attention to the effect the depictions had on some inuit communities.

At the time, Pascall said the overwhelming majority of consumers did not find Eskimos to be offensive.

"What is remarkable about New Zealand is the degree to which, relatively speaking, there is an awareness about, and sensitivity to, indigenous issues. At some level perhaps that has become stronger over the years," Dr Gombay said.

Victoria University of Wellington's marketing and international business school head Val Hooper said people could rightly ask why brands were making changes, and asserting their brands were "rooted in respect" now, when black lives have always mattered.

"Companies are driven by the need to make profit and their shareholders want them to make profit. But I think this has become a very big thing and a very big international thing, so while their previous stand and previous naming was tolerated I think now the push is so overt that companies feel obliged to make these decisions and to change potentially offensive names," she said.

Arguably one of New Zealand's foremost authorities on sweet treats is writer Madeleine Chapman, who ranked all 65 dairy lollies and all 142 biscuit flavours in New Zealand from worst to best for The Spinoff.

She thought eskimo lollies could probably be removed from the shelf entirely because they were "disgusting", but said it wasn't hard for companies to ensure their lolly names were inoffensive.

"A biscuit name or a lolly name or a confectionary name should have no effect on anyone. I mean you can literally call it anything," she said.

"It's kind of amazing that people in the first place saw a bunch of sugar clumped together and thought of a race of people or a certain community. I mean, just call it 'lino' or something, that's just a thing I'm looking at now."

Val Hooper said we might never know why controversial names were able to creep into New Zealand lolly cupboards, but brands should double check that their values are reflected in every aspect of their business, including their product names.

The beauty industry is also reconsidering its branding in response to criticism over racism.

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