UPDATE: Feb. 10, 2021: This story has been updated with the latest information on Conagra Brands’ branding and packaging review of Mrs. Butterworth’s.
- The pancake, syrup and breakfast brand formerly known as Aunt Jemima will be rebranded as Pearl Milling Company, PepsiCo announced Tuesday. The former Pearl Milling Company, located in St. Joseph, Missouri, invented the self-rising pancake mix and branded it as Aunt Jemima in 1889.
- The packaging will look largely the same. But instead of a picture of a Black woman, the label will now feature a drawing of an old-fashioned mill on the banks of a river. The new packages are expected to reach shelves in June.
- PepsiCo started the food business’ reckoning with racial stereotypes last June, when the company announced it would change the 131-year-old Aunt Jemima brand name. Less than a day later, the corporate owners of Uncle Ben’s, Cream of Wheat and Mrs. Butterworth all announced they would be reviewing and potentially changing their branding to be racially sensitive.
Although the Aunt Jemima brand has been known for more than a century — and even portrayed by Black women at expositions, on radio shows and at a namesake restaurant at Disneyland — it was far from historically accurate. The idea for the Aunt Jemima character was originally taken from a minstrel show. An elaborate backstory was then invented about how Aunt Jemima, a former house slave on a Southern plantation, developed a recipe for pancakes that was so good a milling company paid her in gold for it.
Renaming the brand Pearl Milling Company introduces some real history. According to a 2013 story in Lancaster Farming, entrepreneurs Chris Rutt and Charles Underwood bought the bankrupt Pearl Milling Company in the late 19th century. They wanted to create a product that used the mill and its strategic location. Rutt is credited with inventing the original pancake mix recipe, which included wheat flour, corn flour, salt and leaveners. He also came up with the idea of the Aunt Jemima branding.
Rutt and Underwood later sold the recipe to R.T. Davis Milling Company, which hired Nancy Green to portray Aunt Jemima at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exhibition in Chicago. The combination of easy-to-make pancakes and Green’s Aunt Jemima character helped establish the brand. R.T. Davis Milling eventually changed its name to Aunt Jemima Mills and was purchased by Quaker Oats in 1925. PepsiCo acquired Quaker Oats in 2000.
While Aunt Jemima was the first brand to announce it was being retired because of racial stereotypes, it is among the last to roll out a rebrand. The first to announce a revamp was Mars’ Uncle Ben’s, which was rebranded as Ben’s Original in September. B&G Foods said it would remove the image of a Black chef from its Cream of Wheat packaging. A week later, Dreyer’s Grand Ice Cream announced its Eskimo Pie rebrand to Edy’s Pie, named after Joseph Edy, one of the company’s founders. Conagra Brands is still working on its branding and packaging review of Mrs. Butterworth’s, the company said in an email on Wednesday.
When PepsiCo announced it was rebranding Aunt Jemima, the company said it would work with consumers, employees, cultural and subject matter experts and other partners to get input on how to rebrand in an inclusive way. Pearl Milling Company has no racial overtones and it enables PepsiCo to build an authentic story around the brand.
With its announcement of the Pearl Milling Company branding, PepsiCo said it is committing $1 million in grants for nonprofit organizations to empower and uplift Black girls and women.