WASHINGTON — The owner of the Uncle Ben’s brand of rice says the brand will “evolve” in response to concerns about racial stereotyping.
The announcement Wednesday morning comes just hours after Quaker Oats said it was retiring its Aunt Jemima brand of syrup and pancake mixes.
Caroline Sherman, a spokeswoman for Mars, which owns Uncle Ben’s, says the company is listening to the voices of consumers, especially in the black community, and recognizes that now is the right time to evolve the brand, including its visual identity.
"We don’t yet know what the exact changes or timing will be, but we are evaluating all possibilities," the company statement added. "Racism has no place in society. We stand in solidarity with the Black community, our Associates and our partners in the fight for social justice. We know to make the systemic change needed, it’s going to take a collective effort from all of us – individuals, communities and organizations of all sizes around the world.
In 2007, Mars tried to update its brand by "promoting" the fictional Ben to be the "chairman" of the company during an advertising campaign. However, as Newsweek points out, the brand has been criticized for its name because the world "Uncle" was used in the past to refer to slaves.
Earlier in the day, Quaker Oats said it would be retiring the 131-year-old Aunt Jemima brand, saying the company recognizes the character's origins are “based on a racial stereotype.”
Quaker, which is owned by PepsiCo, said it's overhauled pancake mix and syrup will hit shelves by the fourth quarter of 2020. The company will announce the new name at a later date.
“We recognize Aunt Jemima’s origins are based on a racial stereotype," said Kristin Kroepfl of Quaker Foods North America. "While work has been done over the years to update the brand in a manner intended to be appropriate and respectful, we realize those changes are not enough.”
PepsiCo also announced a five-year, $400 million initiative “to lift up black communities and increase black representation at PepsiCo.”
In the wake of the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, activists and consumers have demanded that companies take a stand against racial injustice or lose their business.
Land O'Lakes announced earlier this year that it would no longer use the Native American woman who had graced its packages of butter, cheese and other products since the late 1920s.