Uncle Ben’s set to be renamed Ben’s Original after the owner of the Mars Rice Field admitted the label promoted racial stereotypes, the latest example of a US company abandoning long-standing symbols in response to concerns about injustice and inequality .
As harmless brand elements – the font, blue-orange color scheme, and half of the name – will survive, Mars drops the image of an elderly African-American man who has been promoting Uncle Ben’s ever since. over 70 years old.
âIt’s time for him to retire,â Fiona Dawson, head of the food business for Mars, said in an interview, presenting the results of a three-month review.
She noted that the term “uncle” had sometimes been used pejoratively in the United States to refer to a black man, and that the term had connotations of servility. âThis is clearly something we would not want to be associated with. “
The Uncle Ben’s brand was adopted in 1947, five years after Mars acquired the rights to easy-to-cook parboiled rice during World War II. It is not known if “Ben” existed in real life, but the character image was based on Frank Brown, a butler at a Chicago restaurant.
More recently, Mars had sought to refresh Uncle Ben’s image. A short-lived branding campaign in 2007 redesigned him as a successful businessman. About ten years ago, he lost his bow tie.
But calls for the removal of the brand have multiplied, especially as the Blacks Lives Matter movement gained momentum this year after the murder of George Floyd.
Several other consumer goods groups are also altering controversial racist images. ConAgra Brands is examining the future of its line of Mrs Butterworth syrups and pancake mixes, which comes in bottles shaped like a woman matron – another image linked to bondage. PepsiCo has announced that it will be ditching the character of Aunt Jemima who promotes its baking ingredients and whose origins are tied to minstrel shows.
Mars had considered more drastic alternatives to Ben’s Original but ultimately decided to “keep what we can from the past” while embracing “fairer iconography,” Ms. Dawson said.
â’Ben’ is clearly associated with the brand. People don’t see anything negative about the name Ben, which is why we chose to keep it.
Along with the rebranding, Mars also said it was taking steps to “improve inclusion and equality.” The company said it is developing culinary scholarships to support future black chefs and is also investing to improve education and access to fresh food in Greenville, Mississippi, where rice is produced in the United States. United.