Cream of Wheat chef will be removed from packaging, B&G says

Dive Brief:

  • B&G Foods will remove the image of a Black chef from the packaging of its Cream of Wheat, the company said in a statement. The food manufacturer announced it was reviewing the packaging in June after widespread protests against systemic racism pushed several companies to re-evaluate their branding.
  • The image has been on packages of the hot cereal mix since around 1900. “While research indicates the image may be based upon an actual Chicago chef named Frank White, it reminds some consumers of earlier depictions they find offensive. Therefore, we are removing the chef image from all Cream of Wheat packaging,” the statement from B&G Foods said. 
  • This is the second brand to announce a change this week to get rid of racial branding that some found offensive. Mars Food announced on Wednesday it was renaming its Uncle Ben’s rice brand “Ben’s Original” and discontinuing the image of a smiling Black man on the packaging. 

Dive Insight:

Food brands’ racial reckoning is starting to show results, though these changes should come as no surprise.

Although packaging design changes take time — especially for a long-beloved product such as Cream of Wheat that was created nearly 130 years ago — removing the Black chef from the package is the obvious solution for B&G Foods. Even though the picture has been on the package for more than a century, it isn’t a part of the product’s name or vital to its branding. Of all of the brands that committed to review their branding and imagery this summer, Cream of Wheat had the shortest path to a solution since it did not require a comprehensive rebrand or new product name. 

The Cream of Wheat chef was reportedly based on a real person, though his name was never formally recorded by Nabisco, which started the brand. White, who was working at a Chicago restaurant, had been photographed by the company, according to legend. He apparently told people he had been the model, but was not formally identified as such until the 2000s.

While the chef has been on Cream of Wheat packaging for many years, the character has not been part of marketing campaigns or taken a large space on the box for decades. Today, the chef’s picture is relatively small and featured above the product logo on the box.

In addition to changing the packaging, B&G said in its statement it is also undertaking a philanthropic initiative to bring more diversity into the culinary world. The company started developing relationships with culinary schools in order to develop Black and Latin American candidates through scholarships, the statement said, but it offered no specifics.

It isn’t clear if Mars Food’s announcement this week about Uncle Ben’s pushed B&G into publicizing its planned change before it could outline more details for its educational project. The change in the Uncle Ben’s rice branding is bigger, with a name change and image being taken away. The brand is keeping the same color scheme and look to its packages. 

The other food brands that committed to re-examining their branding said they will not be making announcements of changes anytime soon. In these instances, the overhauls involve more than simply making a couple of visual changes to their packaging. The first brand to announce it was making a change, PepsiCo’s Aunt Jemima, committed to removing a picture of a Black woman from its package later this year and completely rebranding by 2021. Quaker Oats, the soda giant’s division that the pancake mix and syrup brand falls under, said in an email the company is still listening to consumers and “diverse partners” about the best way forward.

Conagra Brands’ Mrs. Butterworth’s brand also is still in the midst of its review, a company spokesperson said in an email. Bottles of Mrs. Butterworth’s syrup are in the shape of a woman with a long skirt and a bun, and the brand’s key marketing campaign has consistently involved consumers having conversations with the bottle.

Black actress Thelma “Butterfly” McQueen reportedly was the model for the original Mrs. Butterworth’s packaging, but the syrup bottle’s character has not been portrayed as any particular race. The bottle is dark brown — though most syrup bottles are to prevent light damage. If Conagra decides to make changes to this brand, it would mean a complete overhaul of the packaging, which also is a major part of the brand that has been highlighted in marketing campaigns through the years.

The other brand that has committed to changing its name is Eskimo Pie, which is now under the umbrella of Dreyer’s Grand Ice Cream, the U.S. arm of Froneri. The brand announced earlier this year it would have a new name and branding by the end of 2020. Representatives of Dreyer’s could not be reached to provide an update on their progress.

Compared to the other brands, B&G’s solution for Cream of Wheat is a simple and easy one. And while the new packaging will mark a departure from tradition, the logo, the colors and the bowl of hot cereal now featured on the box will remain. B&G, and previous owners of the Cream of Wheat brand, haven’t used the chef character to sell the cereal for generations. As he departs, it’s likely that many consumers might not even notice.

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