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Plantation Rum Is Changing Its Name. Is That Enough?

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Jul 11, 2020
Plantation Rum Is Changing Its Name. Is That Enough?

Plantation Rum, a brand owned by the French spirits company Maison Ferrand, announced last week that it is “evolving” its brand name in light of the recent Black Lives Matter protests.

We featured Plantation Rum in our 2019 episode, “When White People Say Plantation,” because the spirit’s name inspired food writer Osayi Endolyn to delve into what’s behind “plantation” branding. The word has long been used in the food industry to conjure images of a romanticized, whitewashed American South, even though it has no specific culinary meaning (think “Plantation Mint Tea” or “Plantation Chicken”). Osayi wrote an article on the subject, which in turn inspired our episode.

Now, as Black Lives Matters protests have become some of the largest in history, Plantation Rum is just one example of a company rethinking how it uses racist imagery and words in its own brands. Aunt Jemima, Uncle Ben's, and Mrs. Butterworth's are all planning branding changes; Land O’Lakes and Bigelow Tea already had similar changes in the works before George Floyd’s killing.

On this new episode, Osayi returns to discuss these changes, including what she learned about the thought process behind the Plantation Rum rebranding from her conversation with owner Alexandre Gabriel.

We also take a hard look at the way Plantation Rum and Bigelow Tea tell the stories of their brands, beyond using the word “plantation.” For instance, why does Plantation Rum spotlight the countries where its rum is produced, but not the people who produce it? Why did Bigelow change the name of its Charleston Tea Plantation to Charleston Tea Garden with no explanation? And what is a company’s responsibility to educate its consumers about the history of slavery in the U.S.?

Finally, we talk with Shannon Mustipher, a bartender, rum expert, and author of Tiki: Modern Tropical Cocktails. Shannon is the first working African American bartender to release a cocktail recipe book with a major publisher in more than a century. She explains why she doesn’t have a problem serving Plantation Rum, and she walks us through some of her favorite rum-based cocktail recipes. These drinks pair especially well with having difficult conversations.

Bigelow Tea turned down our multiple requests for comment, but they provided the following statement: “We so appreciate the conversation you want to have and have agreed for a long time that we need to all recognize and respect the fact our history clearly shows why the name plantation needed to change. As you know we embarked on this journey years ago.”

This episode contains explicit language.

Interstitial music in this episode by Black Label Music:

"Slightly Carbonated" by Erick Anderson

"Lawless" by Lance Conrad

"Midnight Grind" by Cullen Fitzpatrick

"Party Hop" by Jack Ventimiglia

"New Hot Shtick" by Jack Ventimiglia

"Can You Dig It" by Cullen Fitzpatrick

Photo courtesy of Ron Dollete.


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