Since the 1940s, Uncle Ben’s products have featured a white-haired Black man with a bow tie originally modeled after a Chicago maitre d’ named Frank Brown, an image critics argue reinforces racist myths of happy Black servitude allowing white consumers to see enslaved people as submissive, loyal and content.
The new packaging and branding – which will hit stores in 2021 – signals the brand’s “ambition to create a more inclusive future,” said global president Fiona Dawson: “We understand the inequities that were associated with the name and face of the previous brand, and as we announced in June, we have committed to change.”
Mars also announced a series of community outreach programs that will ensure underserved communities have access to nutritious meals, and teamed up with National Urban League to support aspiring Black chefs through a scholarship fund.
“Brands have an important role to play as we continue to navigate this moment of reconciliation regarding racial justice, diversity and inclusion,” said Marc Morial, president and CEO, National Urban League. “We’re proud to partner with Ben’s Original as they evolve and embark on a new path.”
Carmen Bryan, consumer analyst at data and analytics company GlobalData, also welcomed the move: “By largely maintaining the same essence – that is the blue font on an orange background, as well as the memorable 'Ben’s' name – Mars’ iconic rice brand is able to maintain its familiarity and original customer base while still adapting to a modern audience.”
PepsiCo: ‘We recognize Aunt Jemima’s origins are based on a racial stereotype’
PepsiCo, meanwhile, will phase out the Aunt Jemima brand in the coming months, while Conagra Brands has initiated a brand review for Mrs Butterworth's.
In a statement released in June, 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.”
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.
Conagra Brands: 'We have begun a complete brand and packaging review on Mrs Butterworth's'
Conagra Brands said it stood "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."