By Tiffany Hsu
Aunt Jemima, a syrup and pancake mix brand, will get a new name and image after Quaker Oats, its parent company, acknowledged that the brand’s origins were “based on a racial stereotype.”The brand, founded in 1889, is built on images of a black female character that have often been seen as a symbol of slavery. Aunt Jemima has gone through several redesigns; pearl earrings and a lace collar were added in 1989.
On Wednesday, Quaker Oats, which is owned by PepsiCo, said that it was taking “a hard look at our portfolio of brands” as it worked “to make progress toward racial equality through several initiatives.” The packaging changes, which were first reported by NBC, will begin to appear toward the end of this year, with the name change coming soon after.
“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,” Kristin Kroepfl, Quaker’s chief marketing officer, said in a statement.
After the Quaker Oats announcement, the food and candy giant Mars said it was “evaluating all possibilities” concerning the rice brand Uncle Ben’s, which has been marketed through a character that has long been criticized as a racial stereotype. Mars said that it did not know the exact changes or timing, but that it had a responsibility as a global brand “to take a stand in helping to put an end to racial bias and injustices.”
PepsiCo bought Quaker Oats in 2001, inheriting the Aunt Jemima brand. Ramon Laguarta, the chief executive of PepsiCo, wrote in an article in Fortune this week that “the journey for racial equality has long been part of our company’s DNA.”
The Aunt Jemima brand was inspired by a minstrel song called “Old Aunt Jemima” and was once described by Riché Richardson, an associate professor of African American literature at Cornell University, as “an outgrowth of Old South plantation nostalgia and romance grounded in an idea about the ‘mammy,’ a devoted and submissive servant who eagerly nurtured the children of her white master and mistress while neglecting her own.”
Quaker Oats said in its statement that Aunt Jemima’s marketing had “evolved over time with the goal of representing loving moms from diverse backgrounds who want the best for their families,” but that it would gather more perspectives internally and from the black community to further shape the brand.