New Brunswick

NB Liquor pulls Old Sam rum off shelves, producer rebrands after logo concerns

NB Liquor has pulled a rum brand off the shelves after the producer said it's reviewing whether the label that appears to depict an elderly Black man is appropriate.

Newfoundland and Labrador Liquor Corp. says it's removing logo even though it's probably not racist

Old Sam Rum is blended and bottled in St. John's by the NLC's spirits division. The Newfoundland and Labrador Crown corporation plans to refresh the branding. (Lindsay Bird/CBC)

NB Liquor has pulled a rum brand off the shelves after the producer said it's reviewing whether the label that appears to depict an elderly Black man is appropriate.

On Monday afternoon, Newfoundland and Labrador Liquor Corp. said the image on Old Sam rum bottles could be of the distillery's original founder, a white man, but the research has been inconclusive. Management decided to remove the logo anyway.

"We do not believe the image perpetuates negative racial stereotypes," NLC chief merchandising officer Peter Murphy told CBC Newfoundland and Labrador. "However, we also accept that there are limitations on the information available about the product.

"Although we may believe the imagery is not related to negative racial stereotypes, we cannot conclusively state that those linkages may not exist or be perceived in that light."

Earlier on Monday, NB Liquor spokesperson Sarah Bustard said the Crown corporation decided to de-list Old Sam rum and remove it from store shelves in New Brunswick until a review is done.

"[Alcool NB Liquor] is currently completing a thorough review of all of the products listed," she said in an emailed statement. 

Bustard did not say if the bottler's decision to remove the logo when it comes up with a replacement will change anything in the near future.

Wally Dicks, chief operating officer of Newfoundland and Labrador Liquor, said Old Sam rum is sold throughout the country in several provinces, and New Brunswick appears to be the only province that's pulled the rum off the shelves.

"Now that we've gone through the process and reviewed the brand and we're comfortable … we will reach out to NB Liquor."

He said he hopes the rum gets relisted.

Discourse prompted review

On June 19, CBC reported the Newfoundland and Labrador Crown corporation, which blends and bottles the rum from product shipped from Guyana, has put the branding under review.

NLC said it saw "a potential issue" with the rum's branding in light of increased awareness and public debate related to diversity and inclusion. Dicks said employees raised concerns about the image of the man and whether it's rooted in a stereotype.

The review came as companies confront racial stereotypes in their branding because of anti-racism protests in the United States and Canada. PepsiCo is removing Aunt Jemima pancake mixes and syrup branding, and Mars Inc. is reviewing its Uncle Ben's rice brand.

Bustard said NB Liquor is aware of the conversation about race and systemic racism.

"We naturally want to review the products we offer to ensure that we don't have products that could be perceived as having racist connotations associated with them," she said.

That's why NB Liquor made "the pre-emptive decision" to remove Old Sam rum.

We found that it was a good project to go through.- Wally Dicks, NLC

NLC previously said it was "exploring the history" of Old Sam and "whether changes are needed."

Dicks said this kind of questioning is "very important."

He said that in 2019 the corporation developed a "diversity, inclusion and belonging committee," which did the research into the Old Sam brand.

"It was one of the first real projects that we had and we found that it was a good project to go through," he said 

'Brand refresh'

Addressing the impact on customers of pulling Old Sam rum off the shelves, Bustard said the company expects "many customers will shift to other brands within the category."

Dicks said the brand dates back to 1797. It was difficult to find information on who the man was, so the company has decided to keep the name and remove the image.

He said a "brand refresh" will start soon and take several months. Meanwhile, the corporation will continue producing the rum with the same branding until the new branding is finalized.

He said the perception of racist imagery, even if it's not the intention, is enough to justify the rebrand.

"Every so many years we go  through a rebrand anyway," he said.

With files from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador


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