The instant rice brand is retiring its controversial branding.
Since the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, many commercial brands, such as Aunt Jemima and Eskimo Pie, have been reexamining their customer-facing materials and making efforts to remove outdated, stereotypical, or problematic images. The latest entrant to this trend is longtime producer of instant rice products, Uncle Ben’s.
Uncle Ben’s’ parent company, Mars Brands, announced today that they would be retiring the brand’s logo, an elderly black man, as well as changing the brand’s name to Ben’s Original. Updated product packaging will begin appearing in storefronts some time in 2021.
“We listened to our associates and our customers and the time is right to make meaningful changes across society,” said Fiona Dawson, global president for Mars Food, multisales and global customers. “When you are making these changes, you are not going to please everyone. But it’s about doing the right thing, not the easy thing.”
Uncle Ben’s has used its packaging mascot since the early 1940s, allegedly modeled after a Chicago maitre d’ named Frank Brown. In a marketing stint back in 2007, the character of Uncle Ben was redesigned as the chairman of a prolific rice company. According to Dawson, the new name, Ben’s Original, is the result of several months worth of discussions with investors and board members. No decision has yet been reached on what image or character, if anything, should accompany the new name.
In addition to the new Uncle Ben branding, Mars announced the formation of several new initiatives and investments. The company will be partnering with the National Urban league to invest $2 million in scholarships for black culinary students. It will also contribute $2.5 million to nutritional and educational programs for the children of Greenville, Mississippi, the city where Uncle Ben’s rice is primarily produced.