Goodbye Aunt Jemima, hello Pearl Milling Company: PepsiCo refreshes iconic pancake mix, syrup brand

By Elaine Watson

- Last updated on GMT

Picture credit: PepsiCo
Picture credit: PepsiCo

Related tags Pepsico Pearl Milling Company Aunt Jemima

PepsiCo has unveiled a new look for its Aunt Jemima brand after acknowledging its origins were ‘based on a racial stereotype.’ Pancake mixes and syrups and other products under the new brand – Pearl Milling Company – will start to hit stores in June 2021.

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 Aunt Jemima brand in the mid-1920s) later hired Anna Robinson to play Aunt Jemima at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1933.

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,” ​PepsiCo marketing VP Kristin Kroepfl explained last year.

"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 would donate a minimum of $5m over the next five years to “create meaningful, ongoing support and engagement in the Black community.”

New name developed in consultation with mix of stakeholders

One of several large CPG brands that has pledged to review or phase out high-profile legacy brands amid criticism that they enshrine and perpetuate offensive racial stereotypes, PepsiCo said the Pearl Milling Co name was chosen following consultation with “consumers, employees, external cultural and subject-matter experts, and diverse agency partners.”

Though new to store shelves, said PepsiCo, “Pearl Milling Company was founded in 1888 in St. Joseph, Missouri, and was the originator of the iconic self-rising pancake mix that would later become known as Aunt Jemima.”

Products will continue to be available under the Aunt Jemima name without the character image until June, said PepsiCo, which said Pearl Milling Company would also announce details of a “$1m commitment to empower and uplift Black girls and women,”​ in addition to PepsiCo's $400m+, five-year investment to uplift Black business and communities, and increase Black representation at the company.

‘We listened, we learned, we’re changing…’  

uncle bens rebranding
Picture credits: Mars Inc

The brand refresh follows a similar exercise at Mars, which recently rebranded Uncle Ben’s as ‘Ben’s Original.’

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 that 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.”

Land O'Lakes, Mrs. Butterworth's, Cream of Wheat...

Land O'Lakes butter said it would be retiring Mia​, the indigenous woman who once featured prominently in its logo, from all packaging early last year; while Conagra Brands, which has acknowledged ​that its Mrs. Butterworth's ​brand "may be interpreted in a way that is wholly inconsistent with our values​" ​embarked on a brand and packaging review last summer.

B&G Foods, meanwhile, is removing the image of an African American chef from its Cream of Wheat packaging, said the company in September 2020: 

"For years, the image of an African-American chef appeared on our Cream of Wheat packaging. While research indicates the image may be based upon an actual Chicago chef named Frank White, it reminds some consumers of earlier depictions they find offensive."

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