Aunt Jemima has a new name after 131 years: The Pearl Milling Co.
By Neil Vigdor
It has been a staple of American breakfast tables for more than a century, but has long faced criticism that its name and likeness are rooted in racist imagery.
Now, Aunt Jemima has a new name: the Pearl Milling Co.
In an announcement Tuesday by PepsiCo, which owns Aunt Jemima’s parent company Quaker Oats, the pancake-mix and syrup line formally began rebranding itself and moved one step closer to permanently abandoning its 131-year-old name.
The new name comes from the milling company in St. Joseph, Missouri, that pioneered the self-rising pancake mix that became known as Aunt Jemima, according to PepsiCo, which said the rebranded products would arrive in stores in June.
The change has been in the works since last June after the killing of George Floyd catalyzed widespread protests over racial injustice and a nationwide reckoning over symbols of the Old South and their meaning. Several large food companies came under fire for using racial stereotypes, including Quaker Oats, which said it would drop the Aunt Jemima name, redesign its packaging and pledge $5 million to support the Black community.
The company unveiled a redesigned website for its line of Aunt Jemima products Tuesday, saying “it was the start of a new day.”
“Last June, PepsiCo and The Quaker Oats Company made a commitment to change the name and image of Aunt Jemima, recognizing that they do not reflect our core values,” the company said on the website.
Products with the Aunt Jemima name will continue to be available until June, but without the picture of the Aunt Jemima character’s face, according to PepsiCo, which said in a news release that the company sought input on the new name.
“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,” PepsiCo said.
Ja’Mal Green, a civil rights advocate and former mayoral candidate in Chicago, said on Twitter on Tuesday that the change had been long overdue.
“130 years ago two white men created ‘Aunt Jemima’ syrup,” Green said. “Took a Black slave archetype & made her the face of their syrup for profit. Today, that ends. Aunt Jemima is finally being replaced. Those white men made billions appropriating blackness & hopefully rotting in hell.”
On the Aunt Jemima website, photos of the pancake mix and syrup’s new packaging were unveiled Tuesday. They feature a rendering of a mill with a water wheel and still use the same red, white and yellow color scheme. Both the pancake-mix box and the syrup bottle included a label that says, “New Name Same Great Taste Aunt Jemima.”
In addition to the rebranding, the newly established Pearl Milling Co. also said Tuesday that it was making a $1 million commitment to empower and uplift Black girls and women. The money is in addition to a $400 million, five-year investment to support Black business and communities, and increase Black representation at PepsiCo, the company said.
Noliwe Rooks, an author and professor at Cornell University whose work explores race and gender, said in an email Tuesday night that there were additional steps the company could take.
“I think one good use of these funds might be to support a Black women-led ad agency who they could hire to consult with them going forward to ensure they have good advice about their branding and advertising plans,” Rooks said of the $1 million.
The Aunt Jemima character has roots in a 19th-century minstrel song that expressed nostalgia for the antebellum South. Quaker Oats replaced the kerchief on the Aunt Jemima character’s head with a plaid headband in 1968 and added pearl earrings and a lace collar in 1989.
In September, Mars Food announced that it was changing the name of its Uncle Ben’s rice products to Ben’s Original and that it would also remove the image of an older Black man smiling from the box.
The parent company of Cream of Wheat also said in September that the Black chef would no longer appear on its packaging.