Aunt Jemima was the brand name and advertising logo for a line of pancake mix, syrup, and other breakfast foods. The Aunt Jemima character was based on the racial stereotype of the “mammy” – a friendly African-American woman who worked for and took care of white families. In June 2020, the owners of the Aunt Jemima brand announced that they would rebrand due to criticism that the name and logo were racially insensitive.
What led to Aunt Jemima being rebranded?
The Aunt Jemima brand had faced criticism for decades due to its origins in racist stereotypes. However, following the massive Black Lives Matter protests in 2020 after the murder of George Floyd, there was renewed focus on eliminating racist branding and imagery. Quaker Oats, the company that owned Aunt Jemima at the time, announced it would retire the name and logo, acknowledging the brand’s “origins are based on a racial stereotype.” There was agreement that the name and logo were offensive and out of step with the current cultural climate.
History of the Aunt Jemima character
The Aunt Jemima character has its roots in minstrel shows in the late 1800s, in which white performers wore blackface to portray negative stereotypes of African-Americans. The name “Aunt Jemima” is based on a song performed at minstrel shows, while the image was inspired by the “mammy” stereotype. Nancy Green, a Black woman, was hired in 1890 to portray Aunt Jemima while making pancakes at the World’s Fair. While she’d portray the character as a sympathetically wholesome personality, Aunt Jemima remained a symbol of the nostalgia many felt for the “Old South” and racist attitudes continued.
Previous redesigns and controversy
Quaker Oats acquired the Aunt Jemima brand in 1926. Over the decades, minor changes were made to dress and appearances in failed attempts to move beyond the racial stereotypes. In 1968, Aunt Jemima’s headscarf was removed to show the character with straightened hair, to counter criticisms. The brand introduced Pearl Milling Company as the new name for the pancake mix and syrup line in February 2021 after announcing the retirement of the Aunt Jemima name in 2020.
What is the new name for the Aunt Jemima brand?
In February 2021, PepsiCo (the parent company of Quaker Oats) announced that the new name for the former Aunt Jemima line of products would be the Pearl Milling Company. The new name takes its inspiration from the milling company founded in 1888 that originally created the self-rising pancake mix that became known as Aunt Jemima. The packaging features the image of a 19th century red mill, moving the branding away from the historical racial connotations of Aunt Jemima.
Why Pearl Milling Company?
Pearl Milling Company, founded in St. Joseph, Missouri, created the original self-rising pancake mix in 1888 – years before the Aunt Jemima character was introduced. By acknowledging this history instead of Aunt Jemima’s origins, the brand links itself to the product’s roots. The new packaging prominently features the red mill associated with the original company’s pancake mix alongside the year 1888. The rebranding aims to change the narrative around the product’s history while separating from the racist imagery of Aunt Jemima.
New packaging and logo
The new packaging and logo for the Pearl Milling Company features the name in bold, sleek lettering with the image of a red mill. The familiar red packaging remains, but gone are the images of Aunt Jemima. Brand managers said the name Pearl Milling Company felt “authentic and farmers market-like” while remaining aligned with the familiarity consumers already had with the product. The new logo and packaging began rolling out in stores in June 2021, with Aunt Jemima branding phased out by the end of the year.
What products will the Pearl Milling Company brand include?
The Pearl Milling Company will encompass all the familiar products that were previously part of the Aunt Jemima line. This includes:
- Pancake mixes
- Rice products
- Ready-to-eat pancakes
- Frozen breakfast foods
The same recipes and products will continue to be sold under the new Pearl Milling Company name. The main difference is the absence of Aunt Jemima’s name and image, aiming to create distance from the troubling history of the original branding.
Gradual transition to new branding
The switch to Pearl Milling Company branding has been implemented in stages. Most products were available with the new branding by mid 2021, although some retailers may have continued selling remaining Aunt Jemima branded stock. By the end of 2021, the transition away from the Aunt Jemima name and logo was complete across the entire line of products.
How did consumers react to the name change?
The reaction from consumers to the rebranding of Aunt Jemima products as the Pearl Milling Company has been mixed:
- Many have praised the move away from racist history of Aunt Jemima branding.
- Some see new branding as more inclusive and appropriate for modern times.
- Those offended by the racial stereotyping of Aunt Jemima welcomed the change.
- Younger consumers more attuned to social justice are receptive.
- Some consumers complain about the loss of the familiar Aunt Jemima name and image.
- Change seen as an overreaction by some who argue branding wasn’t intended to be racist.
- The rebranding criticized by those who oppose moves for racial justice.
- Pearl Milling Company seen as unfamiliar and generic compared to Aunt Jemima by some longtime customers.
Overall, the rebranding aims to remove an offensive racial stereotype from store shelves, which appeals to many consumers. However, the change to a less familiar brand identity has been a source of backlash from other customers unwilling to let go of the Aunt Jemima name.
What other food brands have changed names or logos to address racial stereotyping?
The rebranding of Aunt Jemima products is part of a larger movement to reexamine and eliminate racist brands. Here are some other high-profile food brands that have recently changed their names, logos, or packaging:
Like Aunt Jemima, the Uncle Ben’s brand for rice products was based on racist stereotypes. The image depicted an elderly African-American man in servant roles. In 2020, parent company Mars announced the Uncle Ben’s brand would be renamed Ben’s Original and drop the logo.
The Mrs. Butterworth’s brand of syrup used the image of a “mammy” character similar to Aunt Jemima. After announcing a review in 2020, Conagra decided to change the packaging design away from the matronly woman shape. New bottles have a more modern look.
Cream of Wheat
B&G Foods said it would conduct an immediate review of the Cream of Wheat branding, which featured a smiling African-American man named Rastus. The company indicated changes would be made to avoid the racial stereotypes.
The chocolate-coated ice cream bar brand announced it was changing its name to Edy’s Pie in 2020 over concerns the word “Eskimo” was insensitive to native Arctic communities.
In 2020, the company announced it would replace its logo, which depicted a stylized banana lady character seen as sexualized. The new logo uses two bananas instead.
Land O’Lakes Butter
Native American imagery was removed from packaging in early 2020 over concerns about perpetuating stereotypes. Only the landscape remained on the redesigned packs.
Why are food brands changing logos and names to address racial bias now?
The moves by major food companies to rebrand flagship products aligned with racial stereotypes is happening now for several reasons:
Greater awareness of systemic racism
The Black Lives Matter movement and protests over police brutality in 2020 sparked wider examination of how racist portrayals are embedded in American culture, including brands and marketing.
Increasing pressure from consumers
Younger generations of consumers have much greater awareness of social justice issues and are vocal on social media about punishing brands that persist with racist imagery.
Reactive brand management
Major brands do not want to risk being perceived as out of step with current demands for racial justice. Aunt Jemima and others changed proactively to avoid consumer backlash.
Growth of ethical consumerism
Consumers increasingly factor ethics, social responsibility and inclusiveness into purchase decisions. Offensive branding can directly impact sales as well as brand reputation.
The Aunt Jemima brand was based on an offensive racial stereotype that was long overdue for retirement. Rebranding as Pearl Milling Company allows the products to maintain their market familiarity while moving in a more racially sensitive direction. Despite some customer resistance to letting go of the outdated branding, the name change better reflects the current push for inclusion and diversity.
While Aunt Jemima is the most prominent, many other major food brands also rebranded logos, names, and packaging to eliminate hurtful caricatures and stereotypes. The changes came in response to heightened calls for racial justice and equal representation in marketing and media. Though overdue, food companies have finally begun unlinking their iconic brands from offensive portrayals of minority groups. While brand names may change, the renewed commitment to inclusivity signals an important step forward.