Aunt Jemima finally has a new name

Posted February 9, 2021 5:12 p.m. EST

— At long last, the breakfast foods brand formerly known as Aunt Jemima has a new name and likeness, courtesy of parent company PepsiCo. and its subsidiary Quaker Oats.

The name "Aunt Jemima," which has long been criticized as a racist caricature of a Black woman stemming from slavery, will be replaced with the Pearl Milling Company name and logo on the former brand's new packaging, according to PepsiCo, which confirmed the news with CNN Business Tuesday afternoon.

"We are starting a new day with Pearl Milling Company. A new day rooted in the brand's historic beginnings and its mission to create moments that matter at the breakfast table," " A PepsiCo spokesperson told CNN Business via email on Tuesday.

PepsCo says the new brand is scheduled to launch in June.

"Pearl Milling Company will offer people all their favorite pancake mix and syrup varieties in the same familiar red packaging previously found under the Aunt Jemima logo," the company said. "Cornmeal and grits products will also transition to the new name."

The Pearl Milling Company was the 19th century business that created the original ready-made pancake mix, according to PepsiCo. It was founded by former St. Joseph Gazette editor Chris L Rutt and flour mill owner Charles G. Underwood, who later sold their company to the Randolph Truett Davis Milling Company in St. Louis, according to the company's website.

Rutt named the original company after "Old Aunt Jemima," an 1875 song from a minstrel show that featured performers in blackface who wore aprons and bandanna headbands. The new Pearl Milling Company brand logo replaces the Aunt Jemima image with what appears to be a 19th century watermill, where flour was ground at the time. The new logo's red, white and yellow color scheme matches the colors that were used on Aunt Jemima's packaging.

"This name is a nod to where our delicious products began before becoming a family-favorite breakfast staple," PepsiCo said of its new Pearl Milling Company branding. "While the Aunt Jemima brand was updated over the years in a manner intended to remove racial stereotypes, it has not progressed enough to appropriately reflect the dignity, respect and warmth that we stand for today."

PepsiCo confirmed it conducted extensive market research to come up with its new brand 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," the company said.

PepsiCo announced on June 17 that it was getting rid of the Aunt Jemima name and branding. The beverage and food maker's attorneys purchased brand name and logo trademarks for Pearl Milling Company on February 1, according to records filed with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Quaker Foods is listed as the owner of both trademarks.

Trademark attorney Josh Gerben of Gerben Perrott, PLLC in Washington DC spotted the PepsiCo filing over the weekend. "We've been looking for it ever since they made the announcement," Gerben told CNN Business on Tuesday.

The retirement of the Aunt Jemima brand name came in the wake of the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd, which set off a firestorm of racial reckoning and compelled many companies to change longstanding practices and products that were regarded as institutionally racist.

News of Aunt Jemima's rebranding started a domino effect among food brands with racist or otherwise controversial mascots. Within hours of the announcement, the Mars food company announced it would do away with the brand name and logo for Uncle Ben's rice, eventually rebranding itself as Ben's Original.

Conagra-owned syrup maker Mrs. Butterworth's, whose humanoid bottle shape looks like a woman of color when filled with maple syrup, announced they were changing the brand's name on the same day. And one day later, Cream of Wheat's parent, B&G Foods, said it was doing away with its Black chef logo, which was based on a dim-witted, blackface minstrel show caricature seen in early 20th century Cream of Wheat ads.

PepsiCo said Pearl Milling Company will also announce an annual $1 million commitment to empower and uplift Black girls and women in the coming weeks. This investment is in addition to PepsiCo's $400 million, five-year commitment to advance and uplift the Black community, the company said.

Pearl Milling is inviting the public to visit its website and nominate non-profit organizations for an opportunity to receive grants to further that mission.

"The commitment we're making is a reflection of our broader PepsiCo values of diversity and inclusion and support of the Black community," PepsiCo said.

How will the public react?

It's tough to gauge the reaction to Aunt Jemima's new branding, said Apex Marketing Group president Eric Smallwood, who says the reception for the new branding will depend on Pepsi's rollout plan.

"It's a little different because you're changing the name of a brand," he said after previewing an image of the trademarked logo. "If you just saw it by itself, you'd have no idea it was Aunt Jemima, which had its tie longstanding with pancakes and pancake mix. This doesn't."

Allen Adamson, co-founder of New York-based branding consultancy Metaforce, says the new name of Pearl Milling is a strong choice.

"The name has craft and artesian imagery, a key for success in the food category," he said. "It is also importantly authentic, as it was the product's original name. Younger consumers are keenly interested in authenticity."

Howard University Afro-American Studies professor Greg Carr says it appears that PepsiCo is trying to strike a balance between continuing to market a popular product while scrubbing every vestige of racism from that product's new branding.

"In a way, a change to Pearl Milling Company could be interpreted as a form of corporate mea culpa for an original sin it did not commit," Carr told CNN Business. But, he added, "the market will ultimately determine whether this will be a win for PepsiCo."

Our commenting policy has changed. If you would like to comment, please share on social media using the icons below and comment there.