PepsiCo said it will drop the image of Aunt Jemima and rebrand the line of pancake mix and syrup that has borne the name since 1889.
The parent of Quaker Oats Company, which has owned the brand since 1926, did not specify what the new name will be or what the updated packaging will look like.
“We are starting by removing the image and changing the name,” said Kristin Kroepfl, vice president and chief marketing officer of Quaker Foods North America, in a statement. “We will continue the conversation by gathering diverse perspectives from both our organization and the Black community to further evolve the brand and make it one everyone can be proud to have in their pantry.”
PepsiCo said consumers will start to see the packaging changes without the Aunt Jemima image in the fourth quarter this year and that the name change will be announced at a later date.
The decision comes at a time of reckoning for many brands in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis on May 25 and the ensuing protests against police brutality and racial injustice.
“We recognize Aunt Jemima’s origins are based on a racial stereotype,” Kroepfl added. “While work has been done over the years to update the brand in a manner intended to be appropriate and respectful, we realize those changes are not enough.”
Aunt Jemima is among three remaining brand mascots rooted in nostalgia for slavery. Aunt Jemima is synonymous with the mammy stereotype popularized in minstrel shows after the Civil War, according to Marilyn Kern-Foxworth, author of Aunt Jemima, Uncle Ben, and Rastus: Blacks in Advertising, Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow.
According to a timeline on AuntJemima.com, the character was first portrayed in 1890 by Nancy Green, “a storyteller, cook and missionary worker.” The timeline also notes the character was given “a contemporary look [with] pearl earrings and a lace collar” in 1989.
According to PepsiCo, the rebrand is intended to help the brand “[evolve] over time with the goal of representing loving moms from diverse backgrounds who want the best for their families.”
But, Kroepfl said, “We acknowledge the brand has not progressed enough to appropriately reflect the confidence, warmth and dignity that we would like it to stand for today.”
It’s a big change for Quaker and PepsiCo, which were previously reluctant to institute change.
In 2017, for example, Dan Gasby, partner of restaurateur, cookbook author and lifestyle guru B. Smith, petitioned PepsiCo to eliminate the brand name and mascot in a Change.org campaign called Set Her Free. According to Gasby, PepsiCo said Aunt Jemima was wholesome, and they didn’t feel the need to change the brand.
“I will debate anyone at that company about the value of something called Aunt Jemima in 2020,” Gasby said in an April 2020 interview. “This is not 1820 or 1920. When you talk about stereotyping and profiling, you can take the bandana off her head, but the historical significance of Aunt Jemima is terrible.”
PepsiCo said the Aunt Jemima brand will donate a minimum of $5 million over the next five years to “create meaningful, ongoing support and engagement in the Black community.”
The news follows PepsiCo CEO and chairman Ramon Laguarta’s announcement about the CPG giant pledging $400 million for initiatives on racial justice and equality. It also follows dairy brand Land O’Lakes’ decision to eliminate the Native American woman on its label, another longtime mascot based on a racial stereotype earlier this year.
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