The History Behind the Rebranding of Aunt Jemima

By Maia Vines

Last month, PepsiCo and its subsidiary, Quaker Oats Company, officially changed the name of the Aunt Jemima brand to the Pearl Milling Company, after 131 years. New packaging is set to hit stores this summer.

This comes as part of PepsiCo’s Racial Equality Journey, a series of $400 million initiatives, spanning five years.

“The promise of our journey remains unfulfilled. We have much work to do going forward, and to echo Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., ‘The time is always right to do what is right,” said Ramon Laguerta, CEO of PepsiCo, in a press release from last year. Laguerta also stated that he wished to increase black representation at the company.

If the rebranding comes as a shock, here is more about the brand’s history:

In 1889, Aunt Jemima’s famous pancake mix originated at the Pearl Milling Co. in St. Joseph, Mo. and was later branded “Aunt Jemima.” The Quaker Oats Company purchased the brand 36 years later and Aunt Jemima’s Buttermilk Pancake & Waffle Mix was launched in 1957. The name Aunt Jemima as well as the image of a smiling Black woman on the cover of breakfast mixes has racist origins. 

Aunt Jemima was coined from a minstrel song and caricature “Old Aunt Jemima” depicting a mammy archetype. Mammies were known to be, generally older, Black women who were servants and nannies for white families. The original logo even contained a mammy scarf which has since been removed from packaging.

Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia at Ferris State University.

“We recognize Aunt Jemima’s origins are based on a racial stereotype,” Kristin Kroepfl, vice president and chief marketing officer of Quaker Foods North America, said in a statement last June.

From cleaning products to clothing brands, companies have been undergoing marketing changes to their logos, branding slogans, and even product names in the past year. The food industry has also taken part in this anti-discriminatory branding campaign, with brands like Cream of Wheat, Mrs. Buttersworth’s and Uncle Ben’s scrapping their infamous logos. 

“For years, the image of an African-American chef appeared on our Cream of Wheat packaging,” B&G Foods said, after announcing that they will be initiating a review of the packaging. “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.”

Last September, B&G Foods announced that they will be removing the Black chef, named Rastus–a discriminatory term for Black men–from their Cream of Wheat packaging. The chef was once depicted as being illiterate with the caption “maybe Cream of Wheat ain’t got no vitamines. I don’t know what them things is.” It seems almost impossible to refute the packaging’s offensiveness, intended or not. Besides empty apology statements, what are companies actively doing to actually make a difference?

These changes follow the murders of Black men, women, and children, such as Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and Rayshard Brooks, at the hands of law enforcement which sparked worldwide protests last year. Many companies have only released statements expressing their support for the Black Lives Matter movement, and a few social media posts during Black History Month and on MLK Day. But are Instagram posts and logo changes enough? 

 On Feb. 16, the PepsiCo Foundation opened applications for the new $10 million scholarship fund for Black and Hispanic students in an effort to support access to education. This is a step in the right direction and is much more than many other billion-dollar companies have done in the fight against policy and racial inequality. However, there is still much to be done regarding racial bias and lack of Black representation in the media and workplace.