Story at a glance
- PepsiCo and Quaker Oats announced the Aunt Jemima brand would drop its racist name and imagery.
- The move prompted calls for Mars to reconsider the racist stereotype behind its Uncle Ben’s rice brand.
- The company has said it is considering changes to the brand.
Mars, Incorporated, is evaluating its Uncle Ben’s brand, hours after Aunt Jemima announced it would change the racist name and imagery and more than eighty years after it first appeared on shelves.
“As we listen to the voices of consumers, especially in the Black community, and to the voices of our Associates worldwide, we recognize that now is the right time to evolve the Uncle Ben’s brand, including its visual brand identity, which we will do,” the company said in a statement. “We don’t yet know what the exact changes or timing will be, but we are evaluating all possibilities.”
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The statement followed an announcement by PepsiCo and Quaker Oats, which own the Aunt Jemima brand, acknowledging the racist origins of the name and imagery and committing to a change. Others had called out the minstrel stereotype that inspired both Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben years earlier, but the protests after George Floyd’s death have inspired a racial reckoning in the corporate world.
“Uncle” and “Aunt” were used to refer to older black men and women during times of slavery, and the terms later evolved into characters incorporated in minstrel songs and shows. Uncle Ben's also draws on the historical labor of black men as rice growers, both as slaves and later sharecroppers, in its marketing of the rice brand.
On its website, Uncle Ben’s credits the name to a legendary Texan farmer, Uncle Ben, known for his high-quality product. The face on the brand’s packaging is of Frank Brown, a chef and waiter at an exclusive Chicago restaurant, who the company says consented to having his photo taken. It’s unclear what he was paid for the image, which remains the face of a brand that has since made millions.
"Since then we have evolved and modernized the iconic logo, but now, as we continue to listen to people from around the world, look inward and continue to educate ourselves on how the elements of the brand are perceived, we recognize it is time for us to evolve," Caroline M. Sherman, VP of Corporate Communications and Affairs, said in an email.
In 2007, the company sought to address the racist name by promoting the character to "chairman of the company." At the time, Vincent Howell, president for the food division of the Masterfoods USA unit of Mars, told the New York Times that because consumers described Uncle Ben as having “a timeless element to him, we didn’t want to significantly change him.”
“What’s powerful to me is to show an African-American icon in a position of prominence and authority,” Howell told the New York Times. “As an African-American, he makes me feel so proud.”
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