Uncle Ben’s rice, Aunt Jemima pancake mix and Mrs. Butterworth syrup are among a range of products with logos that have racist origins or connotations that are having their packaging reviewed.
Aunt Jemima pancake mix and syrups have been in American homes for 131 years. Its logo is said to hark back to African-American slavery and oppression, and its parent company, Quaker Oats, has acknowledged its racist origin. The product takes its name from a minstrel song called ‘Old Aunt Jemima’, which was written and performed by African American comedian Billy Kersands.
It is also thought to enforce the stereotype of the ‘Mammie’, which represented a black woman working in a white family’s home and nursing the family’s children. This figure is rooted in the history of slavery in the US.
Aunt Jemima products are expected to have a new name and logo when they hit the supermarket shelves in autumn 2020.
Quaker Oats is a subsidiary of PepsiCo. CEO Ramon Laguarta, who has announced a $400 million plan to promote black representation and fight racism over the next five years, said: “We know that the first step toward change is to speak up, so I want to be very clear: Black Lives Matter, to our company and to me.”
The Black Lives Matter movement has asked businesses to take a position in the anti-racist campaign. Following Aunt Jemima’s example, other food brands have decided to change or evolve their logos. Land O’Lakes announced it would stop using its Native American woman logo on its butter packaging. Farina brand Cream of Wheat will also stop using its black mascot.
Rice brand Uncle Ben’s, part of the MARS group, said that “now is the right time to evolve the Uncle Ben’s brand, including its visual brand identity”.
According to MARS, Uncle Ben’s takes its name from a real, famous rice grower. Gordon L. Harwell, founder of the original company, Converted Rice Inc., decided to use the ‘Uncle Ben’s’ name to symbolise the high quality of his products.
Mrs. Butterworth syrup also claimed it would re-brand. As with Aunt Jemima, the syrup bottle, which is supposed to “depict images of a loving grandmother”, was criticised for being an example of the ‘Mammie’ stereotype. The syrup bottle, which is shaped as a matronly black woman, will soon be changed.
Mrs. Butterworth owner Conagra bands said in a statement: “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.”