PepsiCo drops Aunt Jemima branding; Uncle Ben's, others under review

(Reuters) - PepsiCo Inc PEP.O said on Wednesday it will change the name and brand image of its Aunt Jemima pancake mix and syrup which have been criticized as racist amid a national debate over racial inequality in the United States.

The more than 130-year-old brand logo features an African-American woman named after a character in 19th-century minstrel shows and is rooted in a stereotype of a friendly black woman working as a servant or nanny for a white family.

Following PepsiCo's move, the makers of Uncle Ben's rice, owned by Mars Inc, Mrs. Butterworth's syrup, owned by ConAgra Brands Inc CAG.N and Cream of Wheat porridge, owned by B&G Foods Inc BGS.N, also said they would review their packaging.

The moves are part of Corporate America’s reckoning with the treatment of African Americans amid weeks of protests over racism and police brutality after the death of George Floyd, a black man, in police custody in Minneapolis.

The Aunt Jemima brand had been called out in recent days on social media. A TikTok video called “How To Make A Non Racist Breakfast” by user @singkirbysing, in which a woman pours the pancake mix down the sink, has received 175,000 views on Instagram since being posted on Tuesday.

“We recognize Aunt Jemima’s origins are based on a racial stereotype,” Kristin Kroepfl, vice president and chief marketing officer of PepsiCo-owned Quaker Foods North America, said in a statement.

Quaker did not announce a brand name or logo, but said packages without the Aunt Jemima image would appear in the fourth quarter of this year.

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ConAgra said its packaging, meant to evoke a “loving grandmother”, could be interpreted “in a way that is wholly inconsistent with our values” and that it has “begun a complete brand and packaging review on Mrs. Butterworth’s”.

Mars said it had “a responsibility to take a stand in helping to put an end to racial bias and injustices” and that “one way we can do this is by evolving the Uncle Ben’s brand, including its visual brand identity.”

“We don’t yet know what the exact changes or timing will be, but we are evaluating all possibilities,” a spokeswoman said about the brand, known for its white-haired African-American man named after a Texas rice farmer.

B&G Foods said it was initiating an immediate review of its Cream of Wheat Brand, which features a black man in a chef’s hat.

Some observers lauded the moves, but said they were slow to come.

“Brands built on racist imagery have been living on borrowed time,” said James O’Rourke, management professor at the University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business. “This move by Quaker Oats, while welcome, is decades late in coming.”

PepsiCo on Tuesday announced a set of initiatives worth more than $400 million over five years to support black communities and boost black representation at PepsiCo.

Additional reporting by Uday Sampath in Bengaluru; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Jason Neely