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Popular CPG Brands Consider Changes To Names And Images That May Be Racially Insensitive

June 25, 2020 Sarah Cavill

Several consumer packaged goods (CPGs), including Uncle Ben’s, Aunt Jemima, Mrs. Butterworth’s and Cream of Wheat, have recently been under scrutiny for what many consider branding that relies on historically racist stereotypes and imagery. In response, the parent companies of these heritage CPG brands will be taking redesigns under review or preparing for complete overhauls of creative and marketing strategies.

Aunt Jemima Will Retire, Going Forward With New Name And Branding             

Shutterstock_1204866457 Phoenix, Arizona, October 14, 2018: Aunt Jemima Syrup Bottles on a Store Shelf

According to parent company Quaker Oats, the Aunt Jemima name and likeness will be retired after 130 years. Based on the “mammy” stereotype from minstrel shows, the Aunt Jemima character is rooted in racist ideas of servitude and mockery of Black caregivers. Although the picture has changed over time, criticism has remained and the brand acknowledges that updates were “insufficient.” 

A statement from Quaker Oats explains their intentions moving forward, “We recognize Aunt Jemima's origins are based on a racial stereotype,” said Kristin Kroepfl, Vice President and CMO of Quaker Foods North America. “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.”

Cream Of Wheat May Change Chef Image On Box

Cream of Wheat, owned by B&G foods, has joined other companies in reevaluating its branding, which is rooted in racist imagery. Although the picture on the Cream of Wheat box was changed in the 1920s to the likeness of a man believed to be Chicago chef Frank L. White, the original 1890s mascot, Rastus, was a demeaning Black caricature. According to Naa Oyo A. Kwate, Associate Professor of Africana Studies at Rutgers University, “The image of [Frank L.] White may have helped Cream of Wheat tone down the overt racism Rastus invoked, but the subtext behind the imagery remains.” 

In response to the controversy, B&G said it is “evaluating packaging and will proactively take steps to ensure that we and our brands do not inadvertently contribute to systemic racism.”

Mars And ConAgra Considering Next Steps For Uncle Ben And Mrs. Butterworth

Shutterstock_1758779969 Long Hill, NJ / USA - June 17, 2020: Mars Inc. plans to rebrand the iconic but controversial Uncle Ben's logo for its converted rice product line to show Mars' "solidarity with the Black community."

Mars and Conagra both recently stated they are open to reconsidering the implications of their branding, which is linked to the demeaning treatment of Black Americans. The image of Uncle Ben is also based on a real chef. However, like the use of “boy,” “Uncle” was often disparagingly used to avoid calling Black men the esteemed “Mr.” during the Jim Crow era. Mars stated that “now was the right time to evolve” the brand, although there are not yet specifics on how or when. 

Mrs. Butterworth will also be undergoing a “complete brand and packaging review,” said Dan Skinner, Conagra Brands Communications Manager. Adding that Mrs. Butterworth is meant to “evoke the images of a loving grandmother,” but recognizing that perception of the brand may be different. (Mrs. Butterworth has long been considered reminiscent of the “mammy” caricature by critics.) “We understand that our actions help play an important role in eliminating racial bias,” said Skinner.

Brands taking action where they can to reduce systemic racism should be applauded, but it is equally important that brands embrace the fullness of Black lives and diversity across America. Brands should not erase Black faces, but rather ethically and effectively update their branding strategies, amplifying the voices of today’s Black Americans.

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About the Author

Sarah Cavill

With more than 20 years of writing, editing and reporting experience, Sarah Cavill brings to Digital Media Solutions (DMS) a fine-tuned and diverse set of skills. Her work has been featured in notable publications including The Daily Muse, CBS Local, Techlicious and Glamour magazine. Sarah has a passion for current events and the deep-dive research that goes into the content development and brand identity of DMS Insights. In her role as Senior Marketing Communications Writer, Sarah contributes to the pitching, researching and writing of multiple stories published each week surrounding digital and performance marketing innovations in pop culture, news, social media, branding and advertising.

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