Uncle Ben’s has changed its name to Ben’s Original following allegations that its packaging perpetuates racist stereotypes.
In a statement posted to its website on Wednesday, the rice brand, owned by Mars, Incorporated, announced the change after listening “to thousands of consumers, our own Associates and other stakeholders from around the world.”
We listened. And we learned. Moving forward, Uncle Ben's will be known as Ben’s Original™. Read our full statement to find out more about our brand's new purpose to create opportunities that offer everyone a seat at the table: https://t.co/0tSE0lnMa1 pic.twitter.com/741JQU1qTI— Uncle Ben's USA (@UncleBens) September 23, 2020
Though the company will keep its blue font and orange packaging, it will no longer feature its logo of a Black man. The image, used by the company since the '40s, was based on Frank Brown, a head waiter at a Chicago restaurant at the time.
“We will change our name to Ben’s Original as well as remove the image on our packaging to create more equitable iconography. This change signals our ambition to create a more inclusive future while maintaining our commitment to producing the world’s best rice.”
The brand also promises “to enhance inclusion and equity” by creating “opportunities that offer everyone a seat at the table.”
“Our community outreach programs will ensure underserved communities have access to the nutritious meals we all deserve. We will also help culinary entrepreneurs of all colors get educational opportunities so their ideas and voices can be appreciated by all,” they said. “This work will begin in the U.S., where we will partner with National Urban League to support aspiring Black chefs through scholarships, and we will then expand our efforts to support other underserved communities around the world.”
Additionally, Ben’s Original plans to create a program that it says will enhance educational opportunities and provide access to fresh foods for more than 7,500 students in Greenville, Mississippi, where the company’s rice products have been produced for more than 40 years.
“These initial steps are in addition to commitments from Mars, Incorporated, to continue to improve racial equity throughout our business, from increased representation in our workforce, leadership and talent pipeline, to better utilizing our spend, specifically among our suppliers, to drive positive change,” the company said, concluding, “We hope you continue to welcome us to your dinner table, as we work to ensure everyone is always welcome at ours.”
In June, Mars said it was overhauling its "brand identity" shortly after Quaker Oats announced that it was retiring its 130-year-old Aunt Jemima logo.
According to a 2007 New York Times article, writer Stuart Elliott wrote that the Uncle Ben logo is evocative of servanthood, and “how white Southerners once used ‘uncle’ and ‘aunt’ as honorifics” for older Black men and women “because they refused to say ‘Mr.’ and ‘Mrs.’”
Mars says it will begin production of Ben’s Original immediately, and is hopeful that the new products will begin reaching stores early next year.