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Walmart apologizes for Juneteenth ice cream flavor after backlash

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Walmart is apologizing for a new flavor of the retailer's branded ice cream called "Juneteenth," which is sparking criticism that the company is trying to cash in on the holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the U.S. 

In a statement to CBS MoneyWatch, Walmart said it is reviewing its product assortment "and will remove items as appropriate." It added, "Juneteenth holiday marks a celebration of freedom and independence. However, we received feedback that a few items caused concern for some of our customers and we sincerely apologize."

The Juneteenth flavor — swirled red velvet and cheesecake — drew fire on social media, with some Twitter users accusing Walmart of being tone-deaf because the new ice cream flavor is sold by a company founded by a White family and run by a White CEO. Others urged consumers to support a Black-owned business called Creamalicious that has its own version of red velvet ice cream.  

"It's problematic when White-owned brands and companies treat Juneteenth as another commercialized (co-opt) opportunity void of any commitments to the [African-American] community, change or simple understanding of what Juneteenth is," one Twitter user wrote. 

The Juneteenth ice cream's packaging urged consumers to "share and celebrate African-American culture, emancipation and enduring hope."

Walmart's biggest individual shareholders are members of the Walton family, descendants of founder Sam Walton, according to FactSet. 

Juneteenth became the nation's 12th federal holiday in 2021 when President Joe Biden signed a law to mark June 19th as the holiday. The holiday's origins stem from 1865, when the last enslaved African Americans in Galveston, Texas, were officially told that the Civil War was over and that they were free. That came more than two years after President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, which granted freedom to all slaves in the Confederate states. 

Bridge, a company focused on improving diversity and inclusion in businesses, issued an open letter to Walmart executives on May 23 urging Walmart to pull the Great Value brand ice cream flavor from its shelves. Bridge noted in the letter that Juneteenth marks a "very dark and devastating period in American history."

"Would you launch an ice cream called January 27? The day the world remembers the Holocaust. Or April 7, the day that memorializes the genocide in Rwanda. Of course not," the letter noted. 

The letter also pointed out that the ice cream placed a "TM" trademark indication next to the word "Juneteenth"on the label, which Bridge flagged as problematic.

"Placing a TM and claiming ownership of the word 'Juneteenth' further exacerbates the lack of understanding of laying claim to something that represents so much to an entire population. Juneteenth simply cannot be owned," the group said.

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