Published 3 years ago.
About a 5 minute read.
Image: Mrs. Butterworth's
Amidst the social unrest that has flooded the US since the murder of George Floyd, four household-name food brands, whose brand identities have long centered around racial stereotypes, are updating their images and logos to reflect the changing societal consciousness.
The latest resurgence of social unrest in the US and around the world, in
response to enduring systemic racism and police brutality against Black and
brown people across the country, has also unleashed an unprecedented show of
support from the business community. Along with myriad expressions and
demonstrations of support for the Black Lives Matter
(with varying degrees of efficacy and authenticity), several household-name US
food brands, whose brand identities center around racial stereotypes, are
updating their images and logos to reflect the changing societal consciousness.
Image credit: Aunt Jemima
Within days of each other this week, Aunt Jemima
pancake mixes and syrups — quickly followed by Uncle
Ben’s wild rice, Mrs.
Butterworth’s syrup and Cream of
Wheat cereal —announced radical overhauls of
their brand images, which all center around African American figures based on
"As we work to make progress toward racial equality through several initiatives,
we also must take a hard look at our portfolio of brands, and ensure they
reflect our values and meet our consumers' expectations," said Kristin
Kroepfl, VP and Chief Marketing Officer at Quaker Foods North America,
parent company of Aunt Jemima, said in a
statement. "We recognize Aunt Jemima's origins are based on a racial stereotype. While work
has been done over the years to update the brand in a manner intended to be
appropriate and respectful, we realize those changes are not enough."
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The Aunt Jemima brand has existed for over 130 years; over time, the company
says, attempts have been made to evolve its image to represent loving moms from
diverse backgrounds; but Kroepfl acknowledged that "the brand has not progressed
enough to appropriately reflect the confidence, warmth and dignity that we would
like it to stand for today."
The new brand identity has yet to be decided; in the meantime, the company has
removed the image of the Black woman and will change the brand name. Kroepfl
says Quaker (which is owned by
PepsiCo), will consult
stakeholders from within the company and the Black community “to further evolve
the brand and make it one everyone can be proud to have in their pantry."
Image credit: Uncle Ben's
Hot on the heels of Quaker’s announcement came news of Uncle Ben’s pending
rebrand: In an email to
Sara Schulte, external communications manager for Uncle Ben’s parent company
Mars Food North America, said, “We have indeed been considering a more
substantive change and have begun that work even before news of Aunt Jemima.”
While the company has long said that the figure of Uncle Ben is derived from two
people — “a Black Texan farmer — known as Uncle Ben … [and] a beloved Chicago
chef and waiter named Frank Brown” — and the company attempted to update his
image in 2007 to that of “Board
image and even name, Uncle Ben, have remained mired in racist overtones.
Meanwhile, in a brief
on Wednesday, ConAgra Foods announced a pending refresh of another popular yet
problematically branded syrup, Mrs. Butterworth’s: “The Mrs. Butterworth's
brand, including its syrup packaging, is intended to evoke the images of a
loving grandmother. We stand in solidarity with our Black and Brown communities,
and we can see that our packaging may be interpreted in a way that is wholly
inconsistent with our values. We understand that our actions help play an
important role in eliminating racial bias and as a result, we have begun a
complete brand and packaging review on Mrs. Butterworth's.”
Image credit: Cream of Wheat
Finally, the Cream of Wheat brand has not always centered around the image of
the jovial Black chef named Rastus, according to its
website: Since the brand’s inception in
1893, Rastus began appearing sporadically in ads in 1914, but the brand
eventually settled on the image of the smiling black cook — widely believed to
be based on yet another Chicago-based chef named Frank (this time, Frank L.
died in 1938.
As parent company B&G Foods told CNN
Business, “We understand there are concerns regarding the Chef image, and we are committed
to evaluating our packaging and will proactively take steps to ensure that we
and our brands do not inadvertently contribute to systemic racism."
The evolution of Aunt Jemima and the other brands follows a recent brand refresh
from Land O’Lakes, which in February removed the Native American woman from its
after nearly 100 years — not in response to racial unrest, but in order to
highlight the farmers in the farmer-owned company. The pivot fits with the
brand’s stated desire for the evolution of its image; and it doesn’t seem to
have been the result of overt public pressure — indeed, the change flew somewhat
under the radar until
when a spate of businesses, universities and sports teams began to drop finally
Native American images and symbols from their logos (but teams such as the
continue to hold out).
There’s no word from any of the food companies that announced brand overhauls
this week as to what their new branding will look like. But, for them to be seen
as more than knee-jerk, cover-up moves; aimed at not appearing tone-deaf to the
public's growing recognition of the need for racial
these brands and more will need to think long and hard — and put both money and
where their mouths are, when it comes to authentically supporting the cause.
Published Jun 19, 2020 2pm EDT / 11am PDT / 7pm BST / 8pm CEST