A recently launched civil society petition is shining a light on Lacasa’s Conguitos brand.
Both the name and accompanying illustration stigmatise the black population, says petition founder Myriam Benlarech, who is calling on consumers to back three demands via petition platform Change.org.
Firstly, the petition is asking the Spanish confectionery company to ‘immediately remove’ all products marketed under the Conguitos branding.
Secondly, Lacasa is being urged to publicly apologise to the black population for its use of ‘stigmatising, racist sales media’ in Spain and abroad.
And thirdly, the petition is demanding that Lacasa explore ways it can compensate for ‘the harm caused by the brand’ and ‘participate in the fight against racism’. The petition founder suggests one such example could be to allocate part of the profits from the sales of Conguitos products to causes combatting racism against the black population.
Aside from urging Lacasa to take action, the petition is also drawing attention to an example of racist branding, Benlarech told this publication. It is a ‘push for reflection’ and ‘discussion’. It aims to ‘make things happen’ and ‘contribute to the current momentum’.
‘The world is slowly waking up’
The petition was launched in the weeks following the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, at the hands of police officers in the US.
The deaths prompted wide support for the Black Lives Matter movement and has seen campaigners take to the streets in cities across the world.
‘The world is slowly waking up’, according to Benlarech, ‘and we can no longer deny that racism still represents the harsh reality of daily life for too many’.
“Racism has become cultural, carried subconsciously by societies as relics of their colonial or slaveholding past.
“We must take concrete actions if we want to eradicate what has become an unavoidable part of our culture, namely in terms of the things that contribute to the development of cultural racism.” – petition founder, Myriam Benlarech
When Benlarech, who moved to Spain four years ago, saw the video of the death of George Floyd, she was ‘deeply marked’. That same day, she came across Conguitos chocolates in the supermarket, with the branding that had ‘shocked’ her since 2016.
“In the following days, I followed the brand’s publications, awaiting an announcement, a position statement, or the start of some rebranding,” she told this publication. “And despite the increasing comments from consumers outraged by the racist branding, Lacasa remains silent and keeps posting the same pictures displaying the mascot and the name. So I decided to launch a petition and share it.”
The petition attracted an impressive 400 signatures in the first two days, and as of today (29 June 2020), has attracted close to 5,000 signatures.
Behind the Conguitos chocolate brand
Benlarech and the petition’s supporters take issue with both the name Conguitos – derived from a diminutive of the Spanish word for ‘Congolese’ – and the accompanying caricatural illustration featuring a small black character with large red lips.
Lacasa acquired the Conguitos brand in 1987. The chocolate-covered peanuts are popular across Spain, and are available in dark, milk, and white chocolate. The mascot changes colour depending on the chocolate variety.
A television commercial for Conguitos, which aired prior to Lacasa’s takeover, reinforces the origins of the Conguitos branding.
For Benlarech, the branding ‘stigmatises the black population’ and ‘promotes cultural racism’. “The chocolates are widely advertised and highly visible on social networks. The Facebook page for Conguitos has more than 450,000 followers.”
While the Conguitos branding has been modified over the years, the name and ‘likeness’ to the original illustrations remain.
In the absence of a response from Lacasa, FoodNavigator asked Benlarech why she believes the Conguitos brand has not yet been overhauled.
“Several reasons could explain – without excusing it – the absence of a rebranding,” we were told.
A lack of knowledge of the subject could be one reason, she suggested. “But in the case of the Conguitos brand, the controversy has existed for years and there are many articles on the subject, just [as there are] comments and emails directly addressed brand. And there are many examples of brands, especially chocolate brands, that have changed branding or marketing elements.”
Another reason could be the fear of a negative impact on sales. “The economic aspect is a completely understandable consideration,” said the petition founder. “On the other hand, keeping branding deemed racist by more and more consumers who are sensitive to the subject is also a risk to sales performance.”
‘In any case’, she emphasised, ‘Lacasa’s inaction and silence lacks sensitivity on the subject’.
Who should take responsibility? Lacasa, the Government, or consumers?
The petitioning of Lacasa to take action begs a broader question: Is it Lacasa’s responsibility to voluntarily change its marketing? Or is it the Government’s responsibility to enforce it?
And beyond these two entities, what role does the consumer play? Should shoppers who take issue with the branding boycott the product?
According to Benlarech, it is both Lacasa’s and the Government’s responsibility. “I think that all commercial companies should care about their ecological and societal impact. Out of respect for the regulations in force but also out of ethics,” she told FoodNavigator.
This should certainly be the case when products are consumed by children, she continued. “Regarding Conguitos’ deemed racist marketing, the brand should feel responsible for the values they communicate and the impact they have on children in particular.”
The Government can also play a part – if laws are broken. “If racism is illegal and the Conguitos brand – after having been studied by experts – is deemed racist and stigmatising, then yes, the Government should act,” she responded.
“Ideally, distributors should also be involved in choosing their product catalogue,” the petition founder added.
Just as manufacturers, distributors, and governments have a duty to end stigmatised racism, so too does the consumer, argues Benlarech.
“Consumers who find the marketing of the Conguitos brand, or any other product, racist, generally do not buy it. But Conguitos continues to sell many of their products because there are still many consumers who do not see how the product could be racist or what damage it can have.”
Therefore, there is a ‘real need’ to educate consumers to explain why such branding is racist.
“Consumers must therefore be aware of their responsibilities, but they remain the actor least equipped to do so because they are in a target position that we are trying to push towards purchasing – through marketing and the triggering of cognitive biases.”