The parent company of Uncle Ben’s rice said Wednesday that “now was the right time to evolve” the brand, including visually, but did not release details of what exactly would change or when. The move follows a similar announcement earlier in the day by Quaker Oats, the company that owns Aunt Jemima’s syrup.
Mars Inc., the parent company, said in a release that as a global brand, “we know we have a responsibility to take a stand in helping to put an end to racial bias and injustices.”
“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 founded as Converted Brand Rice by co-founders Erich Huzenlaub and Gordon Harwell, according to the brand’s website. The name “Uncle Ben’s” began being used in the 1940s after Harwell and his business partner 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 “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.
Quaker Oats said Wednesday that it plans to change its Aunt Jemima syrup brand after acknowledging the character’s roots in racial stereotypes. The 130-year-old brand features a Black woman who was originally dressed as a minstrel character.
Brands have faced intensified scrutiny in recent weeks as protests have 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.