Uncle Ben’s changes name to Ben's Original amid criticism over racist imagery: ‘We listened. And we learned’

Kerry Justich
·4 mins read

Mars Inc. has officially retired the Uncle Ben’s brand name as of Wednesday, with an announcement acknowledging that the name and imagery on the package were perceived as racist. Now, the rice will be called Ben’s Original in what the company calls an effort to “create a more inclusive future while maintaining its commitment to producing the world’s best rice.”

The news was shared on the company’s Twitter account that still goes by “Uncle Ben’s USA.” The tweet reads, “We listened. And we learned,” before introducing the simplified name. An announcement on the brand’s website explains that the image of a white-haired Black man with a bow-tie will also be removed from the rice packaging, honoring a commitment that the brand made in June.

But judging by reactions on Twitter, the move might not be enough.

Some even expressed confusion over how the updated name was chosen. A spokesperson for parent company Mars Food tells Yahoo Life that the decision was made with the help of consumers. “We put considerable time and effort to develop different options that would position the brand for future success and then solicited the feedback of thousands of our consumers around the world — including many Black voices — and our associates to make sure we did what’s right,” the spokesperson explains. “Ben’s Original is what resonated most with all of these audiences.”

The spokesperson additionally explains that removing the imagery historically associated with the brand isn’t the only effort that the company is making toward inclusivity, but that it has plans for deeper interaction and investment in underserved communities and consumers.

Uncle Ben's announced its new name Ben's Originals on Wednesday. (Photo: Getty Images)
Uncle Ben's announced its new name Ben's Originals on Wednesday. (Photo: Getty Images)

“In the coming months you’ll start to see us taking the first steps to live out our new purpose to create opportunities that offer everyone at a seat at the table – this will start with finalizing details with the National Urban League on a new scholarship for aspiring Black chefs,” the spokesperson shares. “In addition, in Greenville, Mississippi — where our brand has been produced in the U.S. for more than 40 years — we will invest in programming focused on enhancing educational opportunities for more than 7,500 area students, as well as furthering access to fresh foods. This will then be expanded to other underserved communities around the world.”

Mars Inc. wasn’t the only food company that committed to making changes in marketing and branding since conversations about racism throughout the country spiked in response to the police killings of Black men and women like George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. PepsiCo Inc., the owners of Quaker Oats which sells the Aunt Jemima brand, made a similar commitment to retire imagery of a Black woman on its packaging. A spokesperson for Quaker Oats tell Yahoo Life that the company is still taking time to reimagine what their updated products might look like.

“Right now we are taking the time to listen to consumers and to counsel from diverse partners. Our goal is to co-create a new brand that carries on the essence of what made the original brand special and makes all of us proud for generations to come,” the spokesperson says. “Packaging without the Aunt Jemima image will begin to appear in Q4 2020, and the new identity will start to appear in 2021. While the packaging is changing, the product that consumers have grown to love will not change.”

Although seemingly steps ahead, Mars Inc. provided a similar timeline, announcing that the new Ben’s Original brand will hit store shelves in early 2021.

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