Uncle Ben’s new name announced in move to avoid racial stereotypes

The makers of Uncle Ben’s rice have revealed the product’s new name, as the company said now was the right time to make “meaningful changes” to a brand widely considered to have used racial stereotypes.

Mars said packaging using the new name, Ben’s Original, would be available in supermarkets from 2021.

There will also be a new accompanying image but the company said they were are still deciding what this would be.

The firm said Uncle Ben was the name of a fictional character that was first used in 1946 as a reference to an African-American Texan rice farmer.

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It said the image it used “was a beloved Chicago chef and waiter named Frank Brown”.

In 2007, a short-lived marketing campaign promoted Uncle Ben to chairman of a rice company.

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However, as the death of George Floyd and the growing prominence of the Black Lives Matter movement prompted fresh scrutiny of systemic racial injustice and the longstanding use of stereotypes, Mars said it recognised “now is the right time” to evolve the brand.

The company said: “We listened to our associates and our customers and the time is right to make meaningful changes across society.

“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.”

Various companies have retired the use of racial imagery in their branding in recent months.

Quaker Oats announced it would drop Aunt Jemima from packaging in June due to criticism that the character’s origins were based on the “mammy” – a black woman content to serve her white masters.

While a new logo is yet to be revealed, Quaker said packages without the Aunt Jemima image will appear in stores by the end of 2020.

The owner of Eskimo Pie also said it would change its name and marketing of the nearly century old chocolate-covered ice cream bar.

Culinary historian Michael Twitty said branding such as Uncle Ben’s was initially created “as stand-ins for what white people viewed as a generation of formerly enslaved Black cooks now lost to them”.

“As mascots, they were designed to be perceived by those white people as nothing more – and to have wanted to be nothing more – than loyal servants, in a frightening time of growing Black equality and empowerment,” he told NBC.

Mars has announced other initiatives, including a $2 million (£1.5 million) investment into culinary scholarships for aspiring black chefs, in partnership with the National Urban League.

It also plans to invest $2.5 million (£2 million) into nutritional and education programmes for students in Greenville, Mississippi, the majority black city where the rice brand is produced.

Mars also said it had set a goal to increase the ranks of racial minorities in US management positions from 20% to 40%, although a timeline for achieving this has not been specified.

Mark Gibson

Graduates in Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois 1990. Move to Los Angeles California in 2004. Specialized in Internet journalism.

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