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17 Jun, 2020 14:33

PepsiCo dropping 131-year-old ‘Aunt Jemima’ pancake branding over ‘racist stereotype’

PepsiCo dropping 131-year-old ‘Aunt Jemima’ pancake branding over ‘racist stereotype’

PepsiCo has said it will drop its ‘Aunt Jemina’ syrup and pancake mix branding, in use since 1889, which it said was “based on a racial stereotype,” prompting both complaints and celebration on social media.

“We are starting by removing the image and changing the name,” said Kristin Kroepfl, vice president and chief marketing officer of Quaker Foods NA, PepsiCo’s subsidiary, in a press release. 

“We will continue the conversation by gathering diverse perspectives from both our organization and the Black community to further evolve the brand and make it one everyone can be proud to have in their pantry,” she added.

The decision comes as many companies rush to revamp any branding which could be seen as racially charged, as anti-racism protests sparked by the police killing of George Floyd continue to grip the country.

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“We recognize Aunt Jemima’s origins are based on a racial stereotype,” Kroepfl said. “While work has been done over the years to update the brand in a manner intended to be appropriate and respectful, we realize those changes are not enough.”

Aunt Jemima has long been one of the more controversial US brands due to its aesthetics being directly rooted in slavery-era imagery. The black Aunt Jemima was originally portrayed as a minstrel character. More recently, the brand removed the stereotypical ‘mammy’ kerchief from her head in response to growing calls to modernize the imagery.

As with all big marketing shifts, the public’s reaction was split. Although we don’t know what mascot character, if any, is going to take Aunt Jemima’s place, some found it ironic that it might take “erasing a black woman from a brand” to supposedly fight racism.

Another take was that PepsiCo’s decision was merely pandering that would not actually help to “solve racism.”

On the other hand, many were genuinely pleased to see that “times are changing,” and suggested that the decision meant recent anti-racism protests were paying off with positive results.

Aunt Jemima is one character of many used by mainstream brands that was designed using controversial pre-Civil Rights iconography. In 2007, Mars spent $20 million to redesign its famous rice-packaging mascot Uncle Ben, which had also been strongly criticized for adhering to racial stereotypes. The company changed the character’s image from a lowly cook to a corporate executive. 

The ‘Cream of Wheat’ porridge brand character, also a late 19th century African American cook, is another one frequently cited as needing a 21st century revamp.

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