Uncle Ben’s is to change its name and branding, following criticism that its 70-year old logo and imagery of a black farmer involved racial stereotyping.
The rice brand will now be known as Ben’s Original, with revamped packaging bearing the new name appearing in shops next year. The company’s owner, Mars, said it understood the “inequities” associated with the product.
“Over several weeks, we have listened to thousands of consumers, our own associates and other stakeholders from around the world,” said Fiona Dawson, a Mars executive. “We understand the inequities that were associated with the name and face of the previous brand, and as we announced in June, we have committed to change.”
Those conversations had led the company to settle on Ben’s Original as the new name, she said, although the company is still deciding on an image to accompany the revamp.
Mars becomes one of several global food companies to agree to drop controversial racial imagery from its branding – a ripple effect from the Black Lives Matters protests sparked by the police killing of George Floyd in May. In June the Quaker food company announced 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.
Mars said in the summer that 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 used on Uncle Ben packaging was a “beloved Chicago chef and waiter named Frank Brown”, the company said. But it also recognised that the use of the character was out of step with the times and pledged to overhaul the brand.
In other initiatives announced on Wednesday, Mars unveiled a $2m (£1.55m) investment in culinary scholarships for aspiring black chefs in partnership with the New York-based civil rights organisation the National Urban League.
It is also funding nutritional and education programmes to the tune of $2.5m (£2m) for students in Greenville, Mississippi, the majority African-American city where the rice brand has been produced for more than 40 years, and has set a goal of boosting the ranks of racial minorities in US management positions from 20% to 40%.