Mars, the owner of the Uncle Ben’s rice brand, released a statement on its website saying it plans to change its “brand identity” citing its “responsibility to take a stand in helping to put an end to racial bias and injustices.”
This move comes just hours after Quaker Oats announced a shift away from its Aunt Jemima line of products in the face of nationwide protests for racial equality. Companies have responded through statements and actions, and in this case by revisiting brands that might perpetuate racial stereotypes.
The Uncle Ben’s website shares the back story on the naming of the brand, which goes back to the late 1940s. The brand was named after a prominent farmer who went by Uncle Ben, and that a man named Frank Brown, a maitre d’hotel at a Chicago restaurant, agreed to pose for the Uncle Ben’s portrait.
The “About Us” section does not currently appear on the Uncle Ben’s website in the United States.
The story reads, per the Uncle Ben’s Australia website:
“The story goes that in the late 1940\u2032s, Gordon Harwell, one of the founders of Converted\u00ae Brand Rice, and his partner were dining in their favorite Chicago restaurant. They were discussing how they were going to market their product to new customers, they began to discuss the legendary Texan farmer, Uncle Ben who was known for his exceptionally high quality rice. So right there and then, they christened their product Uncle Ben’s\u00ae Converted Brand Rice. The face appearing on all Uncle Ben’s\u00ae packaging is that of Frank Brown, a maitre d’hotel (head waiter) at an exclusive Chicago restaurant who agreed to pose for the Uncle Ben’s\u00ae portrait.”
Mars said in its statement that now is the right time to evolve the brand, but did not yet have clear plans on how or when it would do so:
As a global brand, we know we have a responsibility to take a stand in helping to put an end to racial bias and injustices. As we listen to the voices of consumers, especially in the Black community, and to the voices of our Associates worldwide, we recognize that now is the right time to evolve the Uncle Ben’s brand, including its visual brand identity, which we will do.
We don’t yet know what the exact changes or timing will be, but we are evaluating all possibilities.
Racism has no place in society. We stand in solidarity with the Black community, our Associates and our partners in the fight for social justice. We know to make the systemic change needed, it’s going to take a collective effort from all of us – individuals, communities and organizations of all sizes around the world.
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