Aunt Jemima brand breakfast products, owned by The Quaker Oats Company, a subsidiary of PepsiCo, Inc., has announced it will remove the image of Aunt Jemima from its packaging and rename the brand. The company says that packaging changes without the image will begin to appear in the fourth quarter of 2020, and the name change will follow.
While there have been calls for the company to rebrand the name and image over the years, the latest criticism comes amidst protests sparked by the May 25, 2020 death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, while in the custody of Minneapolis police. On June 16, social media users called out Aunt Jemima products for continued use of the image and branding, and “Aunt Jemima” was trending on Twitter.
While Quaker has updated the image of Aunt Jemima over the years and implemented changes such as removing the character’s handkerchief, the company admits the updates were insufficient.
“We recognize Aunt Jemima’s origins are based on a racial stereotype,” said Kristin Kroepfl, VP and chief marketing officer for Quaker Foods North America, in a statement issued by the company on June 17, 2020. “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,” she added.
According to the company website, the Aunt Jemima brand was started in 1889 by Chris Rutt and Charles Underwood, and the character of Aunt Jemima was “brought to life” by a woman named Nancy Green in 1893. A 2014 article in Smithsonian Magazine says that Green was a former slave born in Kentucky in 1834, and that other women portrayed the character in later years. The character originated from a song popular in minstrel shows.
“We acknowledge the brand has not progressed enough to appropriately reflect the confidence, warmth and dignity that we would like it to stand for today,” said Kroepfl. “We are starting by removing the image and changing the name. We will continue the conversation by gathering diverse perspectives from both our organization and the Black community to further evolve the brand.”
Uncle Ben’s, Mrs. Butterworth’s to Review Branding
On Wednesday, rice maker Uncle Ben’s, owed by Mars, announced its plans to “evolve” the brand. The company stated: “We have a responsibility to take a stand in helping to put an end to racial bias and injustices. 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.” No specific changes or timeline were immediately announced.
Following the statements from Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben’s, Conagra announced that its syrup Mrs. Butterworth’s would also undergo a brand and packaging review. A Conagra spokesperson told Forbes on Wednesday that, while the packaging was originally intended to “evoke the images of a loving grandmother,” the company recognizes that it may be perceived differently. “We understand that our actions help play an important role in eliminating racial bias and, as a result, we have begun a complete brand and packaging review on Mrs. Butterworth’s,” the spokesperson added.