PepsiCo Inc said on Wednesday it will change the name and brand image of its Aunt Jemima pancake mix and syrup, dropping a mascot that has been criticised for a racist history, amid a national debate over racial inequality in the United States.
The logo of the more than 130-year-old brand features an African-American woman named after a character from 19th-century minstrel shows. The offensive caricature is rooted in a stereotype of a friendly black woman working as a servant or nanny for a white family.
Following PepsiCo's move, ConAgra Brands Inc announced a full review of its Mrs Butterworth's syrup, whose package is meant to evoke a "loving grandmother." Rice brand Uncle Ben's said it was also considering updating its brand, which features a white-haired African-American man named after a Texas rice farmer.
The moves are part of Corporate America's reckoning with the treatment of African Americans amid weeks of protests over racism and police brutality after the death of George Floyd, a black man, in police custody in Minneapolis.
Aunt Jemima had been called out in recent days on social media. A TikTok video called "How To Make A Non Racist Breakfast" by user @singkirbysing, in which a woman pours the pancake mix down the sink, got over 109,000 views on Instagram since Tuesday when it was posted.
"We recognize Aunt Jemima's origins are based on a racial stereotype," Kristin Kroepfl, vice president and chief marketing officer of PepsiCo-owned Quaker Foods North America, said in a statement.
Quaker did not announce a brand name or logo, but said packages without the Aunt Jemima image would appear in the fourth quarter of this year.
ConAgra said its packaging could be interpreted "in a way that is wholly inconsistent with our values" and that it has "begun a complete brand and packaging review on Mrs. Butterworth's".
Mars said it had "a responsibility to take a stand in helping to put an end to racial bias and injustices" and that "one way we can do this is by evolving the Uncle Ben's brand, including its visual brand identity."
"We don't yet know what the exact changes or timing will be, but we are evaluating all possibilities," a spokeswoman said in a statement.
Some observers lauded the moves, but said they were slow to come.
"Brands built on racist imagery have been living on borrowed time," said James O'Rourke, management professor at the University of Notre Dame's Mendoza College of Business. "This move by Quaker Oats, while welcome, is decades late in coming."
PepsiCo on Tuesday announced a set of initiatives worth more than $400 million over five years to support black communities and boost black representation at PepsiCo.