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'We are evaluating changes': Will Uncle Ben's drop its name and image in wake of anti-racism riots?

Mars Inc, which owns the popular rice brand, says it is looking at evolving the 'visual brand identity'

Uncle Ben's, a food brand known for its packaged rice, uses the image of an African-American man in its logo. Instagram / Uncle Ben's
Uncle Ben's, a food brand known for its packaged rice, uses the image of an African-American man in its logo. Instagram / Uncle Ben's

First, Aunt Jemima signalled her farewell, but could Uncle Ben be the next controversial brand to depart from supermarket shelves?

Mars Inc, which owns the popular food label, known for its packaged rice, confirmed it was “evaluating all possibilities” regarding changes to its brand, which features the image of an African-American man on its logo.

The brand, which was first introduced in 1943 but given its current name in 1946, is named after a black Texan rice farmer, according to the Uncle Ben's website.

The image used on the packaging, meanwhile, is inspired by another figure.

"The proud and dignified gentleman on our boxes, who has come to personify the brand, was a beloved Chicago chef and waiter named Frank Brown," the website adds.

However, in the wake of PepsiCo Inc dropping the name and brand image of its Aunt Jemima pancake mix and syrup, Mars confirmed it also had "a responsibility to take a stand in helping to put an end to racial bias and injustices".

"One way we can do this is by evolving the Uncle Ben’s brand, including its visual brand identity," a spokeswoman told Reuters. "We don’t yet know what the exact changes or timing will be, but we are evaluating all possibilities."

The statement came just hours after PepsiCo said it would remove the 130-year-old mascot Aunt Jemima "to make progress toward racial equality".

While the image of an African-American woman used on the brand's products has evolved over the years, the name is inspired by a character from 19th-century minstrel shows.

In recent years, the image was altered to remove a neckerchief from the character, following complaints that the logo perpetuated stereotypes.

“We recognise Aunt Jemima’s origins are based on a racial stereotype," Kristin Kroepfl, vice president and chief marketing officer of Quaker Foods North America, told NBC. "While work has been done over the years to update the brand in a manner intended to be appropriate and respectful, we realise those changes are not enough.”

PepsiCo also announced a five-year, $400 million (Dh1.46 billion) initiative “to lift up black communities and increase black representation at PepsiCo".

A new name has not been confirmed to replace Aunt Jemima, but PepsiCo did add that updated packaging would be rolled out towards the end of 2020.

The changes come amid widespread anti-racism riots in the US and beyond, following the death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis.

Updated: June 17, 2020 07:39 PM

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