Months after Quaker announced its decision to retire Aunt Jemima brand syrup and pancake mix because of the brand's racist connotations, the company is making headway on new branding for the line. CNN reported that PepsiCo attorneys had purchased new branding and a new logo for the company on Feb. 1 — and the redesign is a big departure from its problematic past. Here’s what to know about Aunt Jemima’s new branding and name, which pays homage to the beginnings of the company’s ready-made pancake mix.
On Tuesday, Feb. 9, Quaker’s parent company, PepsiCo, announced it will be changing the name to Pearl Milling Company in June 2021, per a PepsiCo news release. It’s a meaningful switch that pays tribute to Pearl Milling Company, which was founded in 1888 in St. Joseph, Missouri, and where the original pancake mix was created in the late 19th century. In addition to the name change, the company will be switching out its controversial Aunt Jemima packaging for imagery of a 19th century watermill, albeit with the same red, white, and yellow color scheme that customers have come to expect from the original packaging.
“This name is a nod to where our delicious products began before becoming a family-favorite breakfast staple," PepsiCo said of the decision, noting it worked with “consumers, employees, external cultural and subject-matter experts, and diverse agency partners” to come up with inclusive branding.
The Aunt Jemima brand, which has been around for 130 years, came under fire in June 2020 for imagery that was rooted in pro-slavery propaganda and a racist stereotype. While the image of Aunt Jemima has changed over the decades, the brand's earliest images of a Black woman on the packaging were a mammy caricature, a stereotype portraying older Black women as happy, motherly maids to white children and families during the time of slavery through the Jim Crow Era, according to The New York Times. According to David Pilgrim, the founder of the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia at Ferris State University (FSU) in Michigan, the caricature was propaganda to portray slaves as happy and content in serving a white family that they supposedly loved. Over the decades, the mammy depiction was used often to sell household items and breakfast foods, and according to the museum's homepage, mammy images were used in advertising as early as 1875.
In June, a viral TikTok by musician Kirby brought attention to the issue by calling out the brand's racist roots. Captioned, "How To Make A Non Racist Breakfast," Kirby explains the brand's background while pouring pancake mix down the drain.
Because of these links to a racist past, Quaker's parent company, PepsiCo, announced it was taking steps to completely remove the brand from its portfolio and replace it with a rebranded version of the syrup and pancakes. Addressing the change, Kristin Kroepfl, Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer of Quaker Foods North America, said in a June 17 press release, "We recognize Aunt Jemima's origins are based on a racial stereotype. 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."
Completely changing the focus of the branding to the Pearl Milling Company comes after critics had pointed out the brand had always had racist origins, citing some of the earliest Mammy caricatures from 1910 and 1920. Some early ads even brought up problematic descriptions like an "old plantation flavor."
Many Twitter users were happy to see the brand leave for good, when the news first dropped in June:
The reception to the new name has been mixed, with many people saying that while the change was welcome, not many think it was particularly creative.
Changing the focus of the Aunt Jemima line to the company’s historic ties to the Pearl Milling Company is a welcome one, but only time will tell if Quaker will put in the work to create a new brand that promotes inclusivity and that customers are “proud to have in their pantry.” According to the PepsiCo release, Pearl Milling Company will announce the details of its $1 million commitment to empower and uplift Black girls and women in the coming weeks.
Editor's Note: This post was updated on Feb. 11, following the news that PepsiCo announced Pearl Milling Company to replace the Aunt Jemima brand.
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