Mars rebrands Uncle Ben’s in effort to create ‘more equitable iconography’

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Boxes of Uncle Ben's rice are displayed on a shelf at a Safeway store on June 17, 2020 in San Anselmo, California. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Mars announced Wednesday a rebranding of “Uncle Ben’s” rice following longstanding criticism that it employed racist stereotypes of African Americans.

The rice product, which was marketed with the image of a grinning bowtie-clad elderly black man, will be rechristened “Ben’s Original” and will drop the character “to create more equitable iconography,” Mars said.

“We are not just changing our name and the image on the package, but also taking action to enhance inclusion and equity,” the company added on its website.

Mars announced it was reviewing the product in June in the wake of racial justice protests following the killing of George Floyd. The “Uncle Ben’s” brand, which dates to 1946, has been criticized for employing a Jim Crow-era trope of a black servant.

Other companies are also revamping products with offensive imagery. PepsiCo plans to change its “Aunt Jemima” pancake mix.

In addition to rebranding its rice product, Mars announced it was establishing a partnership with the National Urban League to support black chefs and will invest in schools and the provision of fresh foods in Greenville, Mississippi, where Uncle Ben’s has been produced.

“These initial steps are in addition to commitments from Mars to continue to improve racial equity, from increased representation in the company’s workforce, leadership and talent pipeline, to better utilizing spend, specifically among suppliers, to drive positive change,” Mars said.