Quaker Oats Rolls Out Aunt Jemima Replacement

Thom Weidlich 02.11.21


No good deed goes unpunished. In June, PepsiCo’s Quaker Oats said it would rebrand its longtime Aunt Jemima brand due to racial sensitivity. This week it announced the new name, which is already eliciting chuckles and backlash. It does seem the company should have been more prepared for criticism.

PepsiCo unveiled in a Feb. 9 press release the new moniker, Pearl Milling Company, for its pancake mixes, syrups, cornmeal, flour, and grits. The new name will begin appearing on shelves in June. Until then, the products are available with the 130-year-old Aunt Jemima name, but without the image of the brand character based on the racist “mammy” stereotype.

By the next day (yesterday), the New York Post had a story on the tweeted criticisms. These included that the new name “sounds like a gravel mining company” or “a generic house brand for Dollar General.” Other commenters said they would shun the brand because they wouldn’t recognize it while cruising the supermarket aisles.

At least PepsiCo kept the same font and red packaging for the pancake mix and syrup. It is true, though, that “Pearl Milling Company” doesn’t roll off the tongue. Some critics said it was simply a dumb name.

In its announcement, the company did try to explain itself, but probably not enough.

“Though new to store shelves, Pearl Milling Company was founded in 1888 in St. Joseph, Missouri, and was the originator of the iconic self-rising pancake mix that would later become known as Aunt Jemima,” it wrote.

Broad Perspectives

It added: “Throughout the effort that led to the new Pearl Milling Company name, Quaker worked with consumers, employees, external cultural and subject-matter experts, and diverse agency partners to gather broad perspectives and ensure the new brand was developed with inclusivity in mind.”

That was essentially it. A more ambitious campaign to introduce the brand, including on social media, may have been warranted, as we expect the criticism will continue. Perhaps something is in the works for the June debut.

At least the company’s release from last June was more detailed as to the need for the change, noting that the origins of Aunt Jemima are based on a racial stereotype.

PepsiCo’s decision to make the switch was itself a change from back in 2014 when, after being sued, it said the Aunt Jemima image represented “caring, warmth, hospitality and comfort.” With the popularity of the Black Lives Matter protests last year, it became impossible for companies with brand names viewed as racially insensitive to ignore the barbs any longer.

In fact, on the same day as PepsiCo’s announcement last year, two other companies said they were conducting similar re-evaluations. Mars eventually announced it was changing Uncle Ben’s to Ben’s Original. B&G Foods in September said it would remove the image of an African American chef from its Cream of Wheat packaging that had been used for 100  years.

Image Credit: PepsiCo

Sign up for our free weekly newsletter on crisis communications. Each week we highlight a crisis story in the news or a survey or study with an eye toward the type of best practices and strategies you can put to work each day. Click here to subscribe.

Related:Fictional Case Study Spotlights Crisis-Response Process