Mars Inc. has renamed its Uncle Ben’s rice products “Ben’s Original,” making it the latest food producer to ditch a brand steeped in racist imagery.
The Virginia-based company is also scrapping the portrait of a white-haired black man that has adorned its rice boxes for decades — an image that’s long been criticized as a racist stereotype.
“We’re still in the process of deciding on what our new iconography will be, but are committed to ensuring that it will be truly reflective of the inclusive future we are striving to create for Ben’s Original,” a Mars Food spokesperson said in a statement.
Mars unveiled the new name Wednesday after its June announcement that it would “evolve” the Uncle Ben’s brand amid a nationwide uproar over racism following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Several other big-name consumer brands have made similar moves in recent months. Quaker Oats pledged to remove its Aunt Jemima logo from syrup and pancake packages, while the maker of Eskimo Pie ice cream bars said it would change the “derogatory” brand name. Cream of Wheat maker B&G Foods is also reviewing the image of a black chef that’s used on its boxes.
Mars had conversations with thousands of consumers, company employees and other stakeholders as it considered a new name for the rice brand, according to a webpage announcing the change. The company expects new packages with the Ben’s Original brand to hit stores early next year.
Mars also said it would partner with the National Urban League to support aspiring black chefs and work to enhance “educational opportunities” for more than 7,500 area students in Greenville, Mississippi, where the Ben’s brand has been produced for more than four decades.
“We are not just changing our name and the image on the package, but also taking action to enhance inclusion and equity,” the company said.
The Uncle Ben’s brand was established in the 1940s and originally named for a “legendary” Texas rice farmer, according to an archived page on its website. The portrait long used on the box was that of Frank Brown, the maitre d’ of a Chicago restaurant who agreed to pose for the brand, the page says.
Mars tried to polish the brand with a 2007 advertising campaign that promoted Uncle Ben to “chairman” of the company. He was fashioned as a successful businessman who shared “‘grains of wisdom’ about rice and life,” The New York Times reported at the time.
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