Uncle Ben’s to change its branding as part of parent company’s stance against racism

The parent company of Uncle Ben’s announced a plan to shift the branding of the rice on Wednesday, a move that follows a similar announcement earlier in the day from the company that owns Aunt Jemima’s syrup.

Mars, Incorporated, owners of Uncle Ben’s parboiled rice, said in a release Wednesday that it must take a stand to end racial bias as a global brand. Mars did not know the details on what changes would be made, but said it was time to “evolve” the Uncle Ben’s product, including the visual branding.

“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,” Mars said. “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.”

Uncle Ben’s was originally founded as Converted Brand Rice by co-founders Erich Huzenlaub and Gordon Harwell, according to the brand’s website. The name “Uncle Ben’s” came in the 1940s after Harwell and his business owner discussed a famed Texas farmer, referred to as Uncle Ben, known for his rice.

The image of the Black man on the box was modeled after Frank Brown, a waiter at the Chicago restaurant where Harwell had the idea, according to the website.

Critics have pointed out the problematic use of a Black man to be the face of a white company, noting that Black men were often referred to as “boy” or “uncle” to avoid calling them by a title such as “Mr.” during the country’s Jim Crow era.

Uncle Ben’s had a re-branding in 2007, when Mars portrayed the “Uncle Ben” character as a businessman, according to the New York Times.

Mars’ announcement comes on the heels of a similar announcement from Quaker Oats, which plans to change its Aunt Jemima syrup branding after acknowledging the character’s roots in racial stereotypes. The 130-year-old brand features a Black woman named Aunt Jemima, who was originally dressed as a minstrel character.

Brands have faced intensified scrutiny in recent weeks as protests sprung up around the world following the death of George Floyd during an arrest in Minneapolis on May 25. Consumers have been vocal in their expectations that companies take a moral stance on racism and systemic injustices against Black people.

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