Uncle Ben’s name dropped from rice brand after logo criticised as racial stereotype

The current branding of Uncle Ben's rice has been criticised as stereotyping. Credit: AP

The 70-year-old Uncle Ben's rice brand is to be renamed after owners Mars became the latest company to drop a logo criticised for racial stereotyping.

Ben's Original packages will start to hit the shelves from next year following the shake up.

Announcing the shift, Fiona Dawson, global president for Mars Food, multisales and global customers said: "We listened to our associates and our customers and the time is right to make meaningful changes across society".

She added: "When you are making these changes, you are not going to please everyone. But it’s about doing the right thing, not the easy thing."

Several companies have retired racial imagery from their branding in recent months.

Councils have also been forced to address the issue of street names, statues, and buildings all named after, or associated with, colonialism or figures known for their role in the slave trade.

Most notable in the UK was the removal of the statue slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol, which was toppled by protesters.

The issue was part of a ripple effect from the worldwide Black Lives Matter protests sparked by the police killing of unarmed Black man George Floyd.

The new logo of Ben’s Original Credit: Mars via AP

Mars had announced in the summer that the Uncle Ben’s brand would "evolve" - signalling a change in branding.

Since the 1940s, the rice boxes have featured a white-haired Black man, sometimes with a bow tie, an image critics say evokes servitude.

Mars has said the face was originally modelled after a Chicago maitre d’ named Frank Brown.

In a short-lived 2007 marketing campaign, the company elevated Uncle Ben to chairman of a rice company.

Ms Dawson said months of conversations with employees, customer studies and other stakeholders led the company to settle on Ben’s Original.

The company said: 'We listened. And we learned.' Credit: AP

She said the company is still deciding on an image to accompany the new name.

Mars also announced several other initiatives, including a £1.5 million investment in culinary scholarships for aspiring black chefs in partnership with the National Urban League.

It is also planning a £2 million investment in nutritional and education programmes for students in Greenville, Mississippi, the majority African-American city where the rice brand has been produced for more than 40 years.

Mars said it has set a goal of increasing the ranks of racial minorities in US management positions by 40%.

The company did not give a time frame for reaching that number.

Who else has had a name or branding change?

Among other brands making changes are Quaker Oats. The company announced in June that it would drop Aunt Jemima from syrup and pancake packages.

The move was in response to criticism that the character's origins were based on the “mammy”, a black woman content to serve her white masters.

Aunt Jemima branded products. Credit: AP

Quaker said packages without the Aunt Jemima image will start to appear in stores by the end of the year, although the company has not revealed the new logo.

The owner of Eskimo Pie has also said it will change its name and marketing of the nearly century old chocolate-covered ice cream bar.

In sport, the Washington NFL franchise dropped the Redskins name and Indian head logo amid pressure from sponsors including FedEx, Nike, Pepsi and Bank of America.

Back in the UK, rugby team Exeter Chiefs agreed to retire their "big chief" mascot after a review of branding - but said the club will keep their name the same.

Both the name and the logo of the Washington Redskins will be changed. Credit: AP

Geechie Boy Mill, a family-owned operation in South Carolina that makes locally grown and milled white grits (porridge made from cornmeal) , is also planning a name change.

Geechie is a dialect spoken mainly by the descendants of African-American slaves who settled on the Ogeechee river in Georgia, according to Merriam-Webster.com.