Uncle Ben's to 'evolve visual identity' amid anti-racism protests

Uncle Ben's to 'evolve visual identity' amid anti-racism protests

June 18, 2020

No more Uncle Ben: Food brand in UK which features black rice farmer on its packets announces it will change its ‘visual identity’ to ‘help put an end to racial injustices’

  • Bosses behind Uncle Ben’s say they will ‘evolve’ visual identity of their products
  • Brand’s products have featured an elderly African-American man since 1946 
  • It comes as syrup brand Aunt Jemima also announced they will make changes 

Packet rice brand Uncle Ben’s, a staple in cupboards and larders across Britain, is set to be re-branded amid anti-racism protests across the world by the Black Lives Matter movement.

In a move they hope will ‘help put an end to racial injustices’, bosses behind the well-known brand have today revealed they are set to ‘evolve’ the visual identity of its products, which are sold in thousands of supermarkets and shops across the UK. 

It comes as bosses behind American syrup brand Aunt Jemima, which has in the past been available in UK supermarkets, also announced they would be changing the brand’s packaging. 

Since 1946, Uncle Ben’s products, including its much-loved microwave rice packets, have featured a picture of a well-dressed elderly African-American man – said to be based on a famous head waiter at a Chicago hotel.

Meanwhile, Mars Inc, the company who own the brand, say the name Uncle Ben refers to an African-American rice-grower, famous for the quality of his rice.

In a statement, issued today on the brand’s UK Facebook page, bosses behind the Uncle Ben’s brand confirmed they would be changing the packing and that they were  ‘listening to the voices of consumers, especially in the black community’.

Since 1946, Uncle Ben’s products, including its much-loved microwave rice packets, have featured a picture of a well-dressed elderly African-American man – said to be based on a famous head waiter at a Chicago hotel

Meanwhile, Mars Inc, the company who own the brand, say the name Uncle Ben refers to an African-American rice-grower, famous for the quality of his rice

Uncle Ben’s posted a statement on their UK Facebook page today saying they would ‘evolve the brand’s visual identity’

Uncle Ben’s did not give any details about the timings or what the changes would be.

Brewery apologises to Hindus for naming IPA after one of their Gods

A Yorkshire brewery has apologised to Hindus for naming a beer after one of their Gods.

Neepsend Brew Co called one of it’s Indian pale ale’s after the Hindu god ‘Hanuman’.

The decision caused fury and calls by Rajan Zed, president of the Universal Society of Hinduism, for bosses of the microbrewery to send staff on ‘religious and cultural sensitivity’ training courses.

Zed, based in Nevada, USA, underlined Lord Hanuman was highly revered in Hinduism and was meant to be worshipped in temples or home shrines.

The deity was not to be used in selling beer for mercantile intent and linking Lord Hanuman with an alcoholic beverage was very disrespectful.

Gavin Martin, director and head brewer at Neepsend Brew Co in Sheffield, South Yorkshire, has now apologised to Zed, saying:

‘Thank you for bringing this to our attention and we of course apologise for any offence we have caused.

‘Though ignorance isn’t an excuse, we certainly didn’t mean any deliberate insult or disrespect by using the name.

‘We’ll be sure to research beer names more thoroughly in the future to avoid something like this happening again.’ 

The statement said:  As a global brand, we know we have a responsibility to help put an end to racial injustices.

‘One way we can do this is to evolve the Uncle Ben’s brand and visual identity, which we will do.

‘We’re listening to the voices of consumers, especially in the Black community, and to our Associates worldwide.

‘We don’t yet know what the exact changes or timing will be, but we are evaluating all possibilities.’   

Parent company Mars, Inc on Wednesday revealed it would make changes in the US and that it was ‘helping to put an end to racial bias and injustices’.

On Wednesday afternoon, another American syrup brand, Mrs. Butterworth’s, announced it has ‘begun a complete brand and packaging review’, according to a statement made by its parent company, Conagra Brands.

Meanwhile, Aunt Jemima, which has been face of the pancake and syrup brand for over 131 years, has also received renewed criticism over the prolonged use of the character which is based on the mammy – a black woman who worked for white families, nursing their children.

The syrup brand has been sold by Tesco in the past, but is currently listed as ‘unavailable’ on its website.

Earlier on Wednesday Quaker Foods said it would drop the name and logo after recognising its ‘origins are based on a racial stereotype’.  

Vice president and chief marketing officer Kristin Kroepfl said earlier on Wednesday: ‘As we work to make progress toward racial equality through several initiatives, we also must take a hard look at our portfolio of brands and ensure they reflect our values and meet our consumers’ expectations.’

The company said it has tried to update the brand over the years in a ‘manner intended to be appropriate and respectful’ but has since acknowledged ‘those changes are not enough’.

According to the PR Museum in America, the term ‘aunt’ and ‘uncle’ in this context refers to how white southerners addressed older black people or African American slaves because they refused to give them courtesy titles such as ‘miss’ or ‘mister’.

Earlier on Wednesday Quaker Foods said it would drop the name and logo for Autn Jemima after recognising its ‘origins are based on a racial stereotype’

Here is an American print advert for Aunt Jemima which was published in the 1940s

Aunt Jemima is popular in America but was also sold in the UK, including by Tesco on their website. It is currently unavailable

Quaker, which is owned by PepsiCo, said it’s overhauled pancake mix and syrup will hit shelves by the fourth quarter of 2020. The company will announce the new name at a later date.

The history of Uncle Ben’s: The packet rice brand which is a staple in British larders 

Uncle Ben’s is the brand name of a partially-boiled rice product which was first introduced in America in 1943. 

The brand, based in Houston, Texas, was introduced by Converted Rice Inc., which was later bought by Mars, Inc. 

The produce became popular in Britain through the British Armed Forces during the Second World War.

Since 1946, Uncle Ben’s products, including its much-loved microwave rice packets, have featured a picture of a well-dressed elderly African-American man – said to be based on a famous head waiter at a Chicago hotel.

Meanwhile, Mars Inc, the company who own the brand, say the name Uncle Ben refers to an African-American rice-grower, famous for the quality of his rice.

The name was chosen by Gordon L. Harwell, an entrepreneur who had supplied rice to the armed forces in the Second World War, as a means to expand his marketing efforts to the general public.

It comes amid a nationwide reckoning on race in the US, sparked by the May 25 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, that has prompted a number of companies and brands to make changes aligned with achieving racial equality.  

Protests initially in the US later spread to the UK, where focus turned to the removal of ‘racist’ statues, including that of slave trader Edward Colston, whose tribute in Bristol was torn down and dumped into a nearby harbour during a Black Lives Matter protest last month.

Following growing protests, TV show Little Britain was removed from Netflix, BBC iPlayer and BritBox amid concerns that the use of blackface characters on the series was no longer acceptable.

In an apparent reaction to the Black Lives Matter protests, Netflix pulled the Matt Lucas, 46, and David Walliams, 48, series on Friday, along with the pair’s other comedy Come Fly With Me.

Then the BBC and BritBox both confirmed they had also decided to remove Little Britain saying ‘times have changed’ since the show first aired.

The shows include scenes where the comedians portray characters from different ethnic backgrounds with the use of make-up.

Similarly, Bo’ Selecta, which impersonated black stars such as Craig David, Trisha Goddard and Michael Jackson has been removed from All 4 after creator Leigh Francis recently issued a tearful apology. It is, however, still available on Prime Video. 

Little Britain stars David Walliams and Matt Lucas later apologised for their use of blackface.

In a joint statement the pair insisted it was ‘wrong’ to portray characters of other races, but reiterated it’s something they have apologised for in the past. 

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