Uncle Ben’s rice firm to scrap brand image of black farmer

The rice company Uncle Ben’s is to scrap the image of a black farmer the brand has used since the 1940s and could change its name, as companies react to growing concerns over racial bias and injustice.

The parent company, Mars, said Uncle Ben was a fictional character whose name was first used in 1946 as a reference to an African American Texan rice farmer.

The image who personifies the brand “was a beloved Chicago chef and waiter named Frank Brown,” the company said.

Mars also said, however, that it recognised the use of the character was out of step with the times, and pledged to overhaul the brand following sweeping calls for racial equality in the wake of the death of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter campaign.

“As we listen to the voices of consumers, especially in the black community, and to the voice of our associates worldwide, we recognise 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.

“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.”

Mars said it was evaluating all possibilities for changes to the product, which could include a new name. “We don’t yet know what the exact changes or timing will be, but we will evolve Uncle Ben’s visual brand identity,” the company said.

The move to rebrand Uncle Ben’s follows a similar announcement from the Quaker food company, which plans to change the 130-year-old Aunt Jemima pancake and syrup name and logo. The character is an African American woman who was originally dressed as a minstrel show performer.

“We recognise Aunt Jemima’s origins are based on a racial stereotype,” said Kristin Kroepfl, the vice-president and chief marketing officer of Quaker Foods North America. “As we work to make progress toward equality through several initiatives, we also must take a hard look at our portfolio of brands and ensure they they reflect our values and meet our consumers’ expectations.”

The Quaker Oats company, a subsidiary of PepsiCo, purchased the Aunt Jemima Mills Company in 1926. PepsiCo, which merged with Quaker Oats 19 year ago, has not said what the new name or logo will be.

“We will continue the conversation by gathering diverse perspectives from both our organisation and the black community to further evolve the brand and make it one everyone can be proud of to have in their pantry,” said Kroepfl.

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