NPR:– Uncle Ben’s will now be known as Ben’s Original.
Food giant Mars, Incorporated said Wednesday that it is changing the rice brand’s name, which has faced criticism for racial stereotyping. It said the change signals “the brand’s ambition to create a more inclusive future while maintaining its commitment to producing the world’s best rice.”
Mars also said it will remove the image of the elderly Black man in a bow tie from its packaging.
“We understand the inequities that were associated with the name and face of the Uncle Ben’s brand,” the company said in a statement. “We have committed to change.”
The company is making good on a promise it made in June, when it and other major brands such as Aunt Jemima acknowledged their use of racial stereotypes and committed to making changes.
That promise came amid a wave of reactions from businesses and corporations following nationwide protests in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd in May.
“We’ve listened. We’ve learned. We’re changing,” Mars said.
“While implementing an evolution on this scale will be a complex process that will take considerable time, there is no better time than right now,” the statement continued. “We will begin production of our new brand identity immediately and Ben’s Original will begin reaching store shelves early next year.”
Mars also said its is committing to helping culinary entrepreneurs of all races obtain educational opportunities. It said it will partner with the National Urban League to help aspiring Black chefs receive scholarships.
Uncle Ben’s dates back to the 1940s. The name Uncle Ben was borrowed from a well-known Texas rice farmer of the same name, according to an archived web page about the rice brand’s origins.
The man who posed for image that has appeared on the packaging for decades was Frank Brown, the head waiter of an exclusive Chicago restaurant, the archive web page stated.
Quaker Foods and PepsiCo are expected to remove the image of Aunt Jemima from its packaging later this year.
“We recognize Aunt Jemima’s origins are based on a racial stereotype,” Kristin Kroepfl, chief marketing officer at Quaker Foods North America, said in a statement. “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.”
The company that makes Cream of Wheat, which features the image of a smiling Black man in chefs attire, also announced this summer that it was “initiating an immediate review of the Cream of Wheat brand packaging.”
“We understand there are concerns regarding the Chef image, and we are committed to evaluating our packaging and will proactively take steps to ensure that we and our brands do not inadvertently contribute to systemic racism,” B&G Foods said in statement.