Mars Foods and Conagra Brands have announced they will review the Uncle Ben’s and Mrs. Butterworth brands, in response to protests against systemic racism around the world.
Products sold by the Uncle Ben’s brand feature an older African American man who was originally dressed in a bow tie and addressed as “uncle” when the brand was introduced in the 1940s; while Mrs. Butterworth syrup bottles are shaped in the image of a ‘matronly’ woman. Both images are associated with servitude.
Both companies have stated that a branding and packaging review will take place for both brands, though neither company confirmed an estimated date when rebranded or new packaging would be released.
The use of black stereotypes in product marketing has long been criticised, and the killing of George Floyd and the growth of the Black Lives Matter movement around the world has accelerated the pressure on companies to remove and retire brands linked with racial stereotypes.
The moves follow a similar commitment announced by PepsiCo’s Quaker Oats unit last week, which announced that it would replace and retire its Aunt Jemima brand of breakfast products, acknowledging the imagery behind the brand was “based on a racial stereotype”. The Aunt Jemima logo features an image of an African American woman named after a character from minstrel shows, which negatively caricatured people of African descent.
Commenting on the review of the Mrs. Butterworths Brand, a statement from Conagra Brands said: “The Mrs. Butterworth’s brand, including its syrup packaging, is intended to evoke the images of a loving grandmother. We stand in solidarity with our Black and Brown communities and we can see that our packaging may be interpreted in a way that is wholly inconsistent with our values.
“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.”
Meanwhile, a statement from Mars on the Uncle Ben’s review said: “As a global brand, we know 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, which we will do.
“We don’t yet know what the exact changes or timing will be, but we are evaluating all possibilities.”
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