Aunt Jemima changing its name and image

Caitlin O'Kane
·3 min read

Aunt Jemima syrup and pancakes will be completely rebranded and their packages redesigned, Quaker Oats announced on Wednesday, out of recognition that "Aunt Jemima's origins are based on a racial stereotype."

In the wake of nationwide protests against racial injustice, many institutions have been making changes to address longtime racial insensitivities. Quaker faced pressure from customers who took to social media to criticize the use of the Aunt Jemima name and character on the packaging. While the image of Aunt Jemima has been updated over time, critics say it still perpetuates racist stereotypes dating back to the era of slavery.

So Quaker says it has decided to completely change the name and design of the products.

"As we work to make progress toward racial equality through several initiatives, we also must take a hard look at our portfolio of brands and ensure they reflect our values and meet our consumers' expectations," Kristin Kroepfl, vice president and chief marketing officer of Quaker Foods North America, said in a press release. 

"We recognize Aunt Jemima's origins are based on a racial stereotype. While work has been done over the years to update the brand in a manner intended to be appropriate and respectful, we realize those changes are not enough," Kroepfl continued. 

New packaging will begin to appear in the fourth quarter of 2020, Quaker said. The new name will be announced at a later date.

Quaker said the Aunt Jemima brand, which has existed for more than 130 years, "evolved over time with the goal of representing loving moms from diverse backgrounds who want the best for their families." However, Kroepfl said the company acknowledges it "has not progressed enough to appropriately reflect the confidence, warmth and dignity that we would like it to stand for today."

In addition to removing the imagery and changing the name, the company will "continue the conversation by gathering diverse perspectives from both our organization and the Black community to further evolve the brand and make it one everyone can be proud to have in their pantry," Kroepfl said.

The Aunt Jemima image has long been a point of contention. In 2014, a family claiming to be the descendants of Anna Short Harrington, a woman who portrayed Aunt Jemima in the 1930s, sued Quaker Oats for $2 billion.

The family alleged the company that owned the brand made a promise to pay their great-grandmother a percentage of the profits, reported CBS News correspondent Jericka Duncan. "She was developed a long time ago as a kind of a group of stereotypes distilled into a single person," Adweek writer Sam Thielmann said on "CBS This Morning."

Although the illustrations of Aunt Jemima evolved over the years, the family said it was their relative's image that made the brand famous. "In the late '80s it was decided maybe the headscarf was too much," Thielmann said. "They took the scarf and gave her a straight forward hairdo."

Not only did Harrington's family say Quaker stole her image, their lawsuit also alleged Quaker Oats stole recipes from Harrington in the 1930s and failed to pay her royalties on products bearing her image. They said she had a contract with the company that was never honored. The suit was later dismissed by a Chicago judge. 

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