Aunt Jemima to be retired as brands face pressure over racial inequality

Pepsico is ditching its Aunt Jemima baking ingredients label while Mars is reviewing the Uncle Ben’s trademark as a host of consumer companies reconsider the position of decades-old brands being criticised as promoting racial stereotypes.

Pressure has intensified on sectors from food to media and entertainment to reconsider products and symbols as the Black Lives Matter movement has gathered momentum.

Companies are facing calls to remove logos regarded as racially insensitive and take other steps to become more inclusive following the police killing of George Floyd.

Nascar last week said it would ban the confederate flag, a US Civil War-era symbol, from being displayed at its races, while movies and episodes of television shows including the British comedy series Fawlty Towers and the movie Gone with the Wind have been restricted from entertainment services.

US reality television shows about the police, Cops and Live PD, were also cancelled last week in light of protests over systemic police brutality. Netflix in the UK has also withdrawn series that featured comedy characters wearing blackface, such as The Mighty Boosh and The League of Gentleman.

Activists have for years called for PepsiCo to drop Aunt Jemima, a line of breakfast and cooking products that dates back to 1889. The origins of the eponymous character are connected with minstrel shows.

In a statement on Wednesday, Kristin Kroepfl, chief marketing officer of Pepsico’s Quaker Foods North America division, said while “work has been done over the years to update the brand in a manner intended to be appropriate and respectful, we realise those changes are not enough”.

She added: “We recognise Aunt Jemima’s origins are based on a racial stereotype.” The company has yet to unveil the new name for the range.

Ramon Laguerta, Pepsico’s chief executive, said this week that the group was taking several steps to become more inclusive. He said the company planned to add more than 250 black managers by 2025, including at least 100 to its executive ranks, establish scholarships for African American students, and roll out unconscious bias training across the company.

The Mars-owned brand Uncle Ben’s uses the image of an older African-American man, who wore a bow tie when it was created in the 1940s.

“We have a responsibility to take a stand in helping to put an end to racial bias and injustices,” Mars said. “As we listen to the voices of consumers, especially in the black community, and to the voices of our associates worldwide, we recognise that now is the right time to evolve the Uncle Ben’s brand, including its visual brand identity.”

Mars also said it was taking broader steps to become more inclusive, such as “increasing diversity in our talent and leadership pipeline” and forging closer links with historically black colleges and universities.

The privately-owned company added that it was “evaluating all possibilities” for the brand, although it did not “yet know what the exact changes or timing will be”.