“Uncle Ben’s” drops logo and branding, rebrands as “Ben’s Original”

The Black Lives Matter movement of 2020 has many corporations reconsidering their racially insensitive pasts and images. In June, Pepsi Co. announced that after 130 years, they were rebranding their Aunt Jemima brand and products because they recognized that using an image of a smiling plus-sized Black woman dressed as a maid “was based on a racial stereotype.”

Now Mars, Inc has decided to rebrand its Uncle Ben’s rice products to be more inclusive. They are changing the name to Ben’s Original and doing away with the original logo of an elderly African-American wearing a bow tie because they also recognize that that image depicts Black people in a state of perpetual servitude. Mars, Inc also states that they hope to create more opportunities for everyone to have a seat at the table. Here’s more on the story from CNN Business [via Towleroad]:

Said Mars Inc in a statement: “The company has also committed to removing the image on the packaging to create more equitable iconography. The brand is not just changing its name and image on the package. It is also taking action to enhance inclusion and equity and setting out its new brand purpose to create opportunities that offer everyone a seat at the table. Ben’s Original™ community outreach programs will ensure underserved communities have access to the nutritious meals we all deserve, as well as help culinary entrepreneurs of all colors get educational opportunities so their ideas and voices can be appreciated by all. This work will begin in the U.S. where the brand has forged a partnership with National Urban League to support aspiring Black chefs through a scholarship fund, before expanding to support other underserved communities around the world.

CNN Business reports: “Mars’ rice brand was named in the 1940s for ‘Uncle Ben,’ a possibly fictitious Black rice farmer from Texas supposedly renowned for his high-quality crop. It featured the face of Frank Brown, head waiter at an exclusive Chicago restaurant who posed for the Uncle Ben’s portrait, according to an archived page from Uncle Ben’s website.

[From Towleroad]

Uncle Ben’s and Aunt Jemima are not the only brands growing a conscience. The other day I was in Walmart (don’t @ me) searching for some mint tea when I stumbled upon Bigelow’s Plantation Mint tea. I even tweeted about it without even name dropping the brand because honestly I forgot who created that ridiculousness. Within minutes of my tweet, Bigelow Tea was SWIFTTTT about showing up in my mentions.

I mean, guilty much? I guess it isn’t popular to be overtly racist or perhaps it is costing these companies a lot of money to be. But that’s my internal cynic. It is quite possible that these brands truly see the error in supporting these racist tropes or perhaps they have a more diverse group of executives making better, more “inclusive” choices. Then again, the CEO of Wells Fargo doubled down on their racist hiring practices stating that there “is a limited pool of black talent to chose from.” Sounds about white.

Whatever the motivation behind Aunt Jemima, Uncle Ben’s and Bigelow Tea, the choices they have made to rebrand are definitely a step in the right direction for tamping down on stereotypes in America and perhaps globally since those items are exported overseas. At any rate, I personally am ready for different narratives and images of BIPOC to be readily available in the public domain. That is the only way we can begin to heal. We need to apologize, course correct, repair then make damn sure we do not go down this road again.

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30 Responses to ““Uncle Ben’s” drops logo and branding, rebrands as “Ben’s Original””

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  1. Levans says:

    The Wells Fargo comment made me so angry because there are PLENTY of talented black people in Corporate America, but companies can’t seem to promote us!

    • Esmom says:

      I can’t believe that guy said that. I was about to go check to see if he was fired…fingers crossed.

    • Jillian says:

      I worked for Wells Fargo once upon a time (maybe 10 years ago) and they had racist lending policies like extra verifications for people with non-white sounding names. Disgusting and unsurprising

    • TaraBest says:

      It’s such a tired old answer and no one is buying that BS. As someone who was responsible for hiring in a previous role, I never found there to be a lack of well qualified Black applicants for the positions I had open. And that was in a region that has less than 10% Black population.

    • Aimee says:

      My BF watches CNBC and they have finally put some POC on air recently. Gee, you mean there really are black and brown people that know financial stuff? Who knew??

  2. Lolo86lf says:

    As a Latin person I am glad that we do not use racial stereotypes to sell products or services. That is pretty much a problem in the United States.

  3. Becks1 says:

    This is a good step in the right direction and I’m glad to see the other steps they are taking as well, in terms of supporting black chefs etc.

  4. McMom says:

    Wells Fargo said WHAT? Wow. What a stupid thing to say. Do they recruit from HBCUs? Are they looking at their internal practices to make sure they are providing equal opportunities for advancement?

  5. manda says:

    I drink the plantation mint and had been feeling weird about that name for awhile. Glad they are changing it. I think stash tea also makes a good mint tea! I love mint tea, mint with black, mint with green, I love love love it.

  6. chicken tetrazzini! says:

    If you have your money in Wells Fargo, get it out. Most banks are predatory and problematic, but boy-howdy do they set the pace. If you need more reason than the obvious A-hole above, check out The Dollop podcast about the company and prepare to be enraged.

    I’m glad companies are doing this, because it means the majority of purchasers want this or are ok with this, which gives me hope that America has a quiet majority of good people who just want to go about their lives without harming others. I hope I’m right, the dumb is just so loud right now it’s hard to hear the good through all the noise

  7. Lauren says:

    Bigelow answered mighty fast. I truly don’t understand how can they create and name a product without any shame. Seriously Plantation? How can one be so stupid, insensitive, ignorant, racist and greedy? Nobody in the whole company thought that the name was bad? God these people. As for Wells Fargo I’m not even gonna get into that. Trashy criminal bank and all.

    • Esmom says:

      Yeah, I’m a (white) copywriter and have named many products. I can tell you that plantation is never a word that would have entered my mind when brainstorming. Although maybe that was the direction the creative team was given. In that case, I would not have hesitated to push back, hard.

      • HoofRat says:

        Apparently the tea was named decades ago by the mother of the current CEO. I remember drinking it as a child, and I’m older than dirt. I suppose it was meant to invoke an image of a misty mountaintop in Sri Lanka, without the awareness of the horrible connotations of the word around the world. I’m glad to see the change, and hope it means that casual racism in branding is becoming a thing of the past.

      • tealily says:

        Nah, I think it was meant to invoke an image of mint juleps and sweet tea on a wide front porch on a steamy Southern evening.

    • BnLurkN4eva says:

      This is why it’s important to have a diverse creative team. Why it’s important to have diversity at all times because these things wouldn’t get through and end up on the market if the decision makers weren’t so insular.

    • Ky says:

      The Sporkful a very popular podcast on slate media did a podcast about cultural associations in the food and beverage arena. They specifically addressed Plantation tea and spoke with Bigalow corporate. They released a statement that they would change the name. It seemed to happen fast because it has been in the works for about a year. This podcast was amazing. Worth listening to.
      http://www.sporkful.com/when-white-people-say-plantation-pt-1/

  8. Betsy says:

    I don’t drink mint tea for the pain mint causes me anymore, but I saw “Plantation Mint” shopping recently and wondered when that was going away. Soon, turns out! Good!

  9. FoxCanyonMama says:

    The Sporkful podcast has a couple of episodes regarding the long use of plantation in food and beverage names, and directly discusses Plantation Mint tea. The second episode comes after the company announces their plan to retire the name. The Sporkful has done many powerful episodes examining race in food, restaurant, and bar culture over the last 5 years. Good stuff!

    • Keira says:

      I was coming to say this too. On the first “plantation” episode, they said Bigelow refused to comment when approached about the name. Quite a change w your tweet, @Oya.

  10. kimberlu says:

    remember when tazo tea used to be good?

    sigh …miss the 90s

  11. tealily says:

    “Sheila.” Lol

  12. detritus says:

    Mars, Inc. Is one of the companies that said it would be impossible remove child slavery from their chocolate production unless they were given 20 years. 20 years to remove child slavery.

    Their promise to remove slavery from their production chain was supposed to be completed by 2020. Five to ten years after other companies did so.

    So imo this is still a capitalist move solely produced by actuaries running numbers. It’s change, but it’s grudging. And I don’t trust those CEOs as far as I can throw them.

    Also, WellsFargo can go suck an egg.

  13. Valerie says:

    Omg @ Plantation Mint. I didn’t even know that existed.

  14. Jenn says:

    I like the Ben’s rebrand! “Ben” is a trusted and respected name in easy-to-prepare rice, and “original” because the rice hasn’t changed — same ol’ rice. Simple, stark, and shockingly overdue.