Mars drops Un­cle Ben’s, re­veals new name for rice brand

Malta Independent - - Business - ALEXAN­DRA OL­SON

The Un­cle Ben’s rice brand is get­ting a new name: Ben’s Orig­i­nal.

Par­ent firm Mars Inc. un­veiled the change Wed­nes­day for the 70-year-old brand, the lat­est com­pany to drop a logo crit­i­cized as a racial stereo­type. Pack­ag­ing with the new name will hit stores next year.

“We lis­tened to our as­so­ci­ates and our cus­tomers and the time is right to make mean­ing­ful changes across so­ci­ety,” said Fiona Daw­son, global pres­i­dent for Mars Food, mul­ti­sales and global cus­tomers. “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, a rip­ple ef­fect from the Black Lives Mat­ters protests over the po­lice killing of Ge­orge Floyd and other African Amer­i­cans.

Quaker Oats an­nounced in June that it would drop Aunt Jemima from syrup and pan­cake pack­ages, re­spond­ing to crit­i­cism that the char­ac­ter’s ori­gins were based the “mammy,” a black woman con­tent to serve her white masters. 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. Be­yond food brands, the Wash­ing­ton NFL fran­chise dropped the “Red­skins” name and In­dian head logo amid pres­sure from spon­sors in­clud­ing FedEx, Nike, Pepsi and Bank of Amer­ica.

Geechie Boy Mill, a fam­i­ly­owned op­er­a­tion in South Carolina that makes lo­cally-grown and milled white grits, 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-Web­

“We are in the process of chang­ing our name and have de­vel­oped a whole new brand. We look for­ward to shar­ing it with the pub­lic,” said Greg Johns­man, owner of Geechie Boy Mill.

Mars had an­nounced in the sum­mer that the Un­cle Ben’s brand would “evolve.”

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 mod­eled 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.

Daw­son said months of con­ver­sa­tions with em­ploy­ees, cus­tomer stud­ies and other stake­hold­ers led the com­pany to set­tle on “Ben’s Orig­i­nal. She said the com­pany is still de­cid­ing on an im­age to ac­com­pany the new name.

Mars also an­nounced sev­eral other ini­tia­tives, in­clud­ing a $2 mil­lion in­vest­ment in culi­nary schol­ar­ships for as­pir­ing Black chefs in part­ner­ship with the Na­tional Ur­ban League. It also is plan­ning a $2.5 mil­lion in­vest­ment in nu­tri­tional and ed­u­ca­tion pro­grams 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 U.S. man­age­ment po­si­tions from 20% to 40%. The com­pany did not give a time­frame for reach­ing that num­ber.

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