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Uncle Ben, Mrs. Butterworth embrace makeovers in light of racist past

Aunt Jemima brand to change name and logo amid anti-racism protests
WATCH: PepsiCo Inc. will change the name and brand image of its Aunt Jemima pancake mix and syrup, it said on Wednesday, dropping a mascot criticized for a racist history.

The makers of Uncle Ben’s rice and Mrs. Butterworth’s syrup have joined Aunt Jemima in pledging to review their long-standing brand images amid sweeping backlash in the United States against anti-Black racism and racist caricatures from the past.

Mars Food, which makes Uncle Ben’s, announced on Wednesday afternoon that it would “evolve” its brand from the current presentation, which features a smiling older Black man on an orange package.

READ MORE: Aunt Jemima brand to receive new name, logo amid anti-racism protests

“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,” a spokesperson said in a statement to Reuters. “We recognize that one way we can do this is by evolving the Uncle Ben’s brand, including its visual brand identity.”

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Mars says it will evaluate “all possibilities” with its brand refresh and that it’s not sure yet when the change will happen.

Boxes of Uncle Ben’s rice are displayed on Wednesday, June 17, 2020, in Long Beach, Calif.
Boxes of Uncle Ben’s rice are displayed on Wednesday, June 17, 2020, in Long Beach, Calif. AP Photo/Ashley Landis

Conagra Brands also pledged on Wednesday to conduct a “complete brand and package review” of Mrs. Butterworth, which packages its syrup in a bottle shaped like a matronly woman. Critics have long described the character as a “mammy” — a racial stereotype from the American South for a subservient Black woman.

“The Mrs. Butterworth’s brand, including its syrup packaging, is intended to evoke the images of a loving grandmother,” Conagra Brands said in a news release on Wednesday. “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.”

In a Monday, Feb. 12, 2007, file photo, bottles of Mrs. Butterworth’s Original Syrup are displayed in a store, in Princeton, N.J.
In a Monday, Feb. 12, 2007, file photo, bottles of Mrs. Butterworth’s Original Syrup are displayed in a store, in Princeton, N.J. AP Photo/Mel Evans

The company pledged to change its branding, though it’s unclear what new form the syrup will take.

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“It’s heartbreaking and unacceptable that racism and racial injustices exist around the world,” Conagra said. “We will be part of the solution. Let’s work together to progress toward change.”

READ MORE: ‘Officer Karen’ divides social media with McMuffin complaint video

B&G Foods, which makes Cream of Wheat, also announced plans on Wednesday to review its packaging. Its current product features a smiling Black man in a white chef’s uniform. The chef has been known in the past as “Rastus,” a derogatory term for a Black man.

“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 company said in a statement.

The Cream of Wheat mascot is shown in this image from B&G Foods’ website.
The Cream of Wheat mascot is shown in this image from B&G Foods’ website. B&G Foods

The decision comes shortly after PepsiCo and its subsidiary, Quaker Oats, announced that they would retire the Aunt Jemima brand, another pancake syrup product that had been accused of playing into the “mammy” stereotype.

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“We recognize Aunt Jemima‘s origins are based on a racial stereotype,” a Quaker spokesperson said on Wednesday.

“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.”

Despite the sudden reckoning among some brands rooted in a racist past, several others remain, such as the Washington Redskins NFL team, Nestle’s Eskimo Pie and Miss Chiquita Banana.

— With files from Reuters and the Associated Press