PepsiCo will phase out the Aunt Jemima brand in the coming months, while Mars Inc plans to "evolve the Uncle Ben's brand," and Conagra Brands is initiating a brand review for Mrs Butterworth's.
A fictitious character with a name taken from a Minstrel show, Aunt Jemima “sang songs, cooked pancakes, and told romanticized stories about the Old South,” according to a 2018 essay in Black Excellence explaining the origins and evolution of the brand.
Former slave Nancy Green debuted as Aunt Jemima at the 1893 World’s Exposition in Chicago in an exhibit hosted by The Davis Milling Company and a brand was born. The Quaker Oats Company (which had acquired the company in 1926) later hired Anna Robinson to play Aunt Jemima at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1933.
In a statement released Wednesday, The Quaker Oats Company, a subsidiary of PepsiCo, said it would remove the image of Aunt Jemima from its packaging and change the name of the brand, which chief marketing officer Kristin Kroepfl acknowledged was “based on a racial stereotype.”
'Work has been done over the years to update the brand in a manner intended to be appropriate and respectful'
She added: “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."
The first products (syrups and pancake mixes) without the image of Aunt Jemima will appear in Q4 of 2020, with a name change to be announced at a later date.
"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 Kroepfl, who said the brand will donate a minimum of $5m over the next five years to “create meaningful, ongoing support and engagement in the Black community.”
“We will continue the conversation by gathering diverse perspectives from both our organization and the Black community to further evolve the brand and make it one everyone can be proud to have in their pantry."
Mrs. Butterworth's under review: 'We can see that our packaging may be interpreted in a way that is wholly inconsistent with our values'
Shortly after PepsiCo's announcement, Conagra Brands announced a 'brand review' of its Mrs Butterworth's brand of syrups and pancake mixes, noting that the company stands "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. It's heartbreaking and unacceptable that racism and racial injustices exist around the world. We will be part of the solution. Let's work together to progress toward change."
Uncle Ben's: Evolving
Mars Inc., the parent company of Uncle Ben’s rice, said it would be “evolving the visual brand identity.”
In a statement emailed to reporters, the brand added: "As a global brand, we know we have a responsibility to take a stand in helping to put an end to racial bias and injustices. As we listen to the voices of consumers, especially in the Black community, and to the voices of our Associates worldwide, we recognize that now is the right time to evolve the Uncle Ben’s brand, including its visual brand identity, which we will do.
"We don’t yet know what the exact changes or timing will be, but we are evaluating all possibilities.
"Racism has no place in society. We stand in solidarity with the Black community, our Associates and our partners in the fight for social justice. We know to make the systemic change needed, it’s going to take a collective effort from all of us – individuals, communities and organizations of all sizes around the world."