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PepsiCo Takes a 'Hard Look' at Its Portfolio

Acknowledging stereotype origins, Aunt Jemima brand to be retired
Aunt Jemima syrup
Photograph courtesy of The Quaker Oats Company

Prompted by a nationwide movement to examine racial inequality and social injustice, the Quaker Oats Co., a Chicago-based subsidiary of PepsiCo Inc., has taken “a hard look” at all of its brands and decided to remove the more than 130-year-old Aunt Jemima brand from its portfolio.

Packaging changes without the Aunt Jemima image will begin to appear throughout the fourth quarter of 2020, while the name change will be announced at a later date that will quickly follow the first phase of packaging changes, said the company in a release.

“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," said Kristin Kroepfl, VP and chief marketing officer for Quaker Foods North America, in a statement. “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 further acknowledged that despite the evolution of the brand throughout its long history, it “has not progressed enough to appropriately reflect the confidence, warmth and dignity that we would like it to stand for today. We 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.”

In addition to changing the packaging and name on the line of syrups and pancake mix, PepsiCo of Purchase, N.Y., announced the Aunt Jemima brand will donate a minimum of $5 million over the next five years “to create meaningful, ongoing support and engagement in the black community.”

The $5 million donation follows the recent announcement by PepsiCo Chairman and CEO Ramon Laguarta that the company will invest more than $400 million in a set of initiatives over five years “to lift up black communities and increase black representation at PepsiCo.”

“As people around the world demand justice for George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks, and far too many others, we have been thinking hard about how PepsiCo can help dismantle the systemic racial barriers that for generations have blocked social and economic progress for black people in this country. We know that the first step toward change is to speak up, so I want to be very clear: Black Lives Matter, to our company and to me,” said Laguarta in a statement.

The PepsiCo CEO’s letter further detailed that the journey will focus on three pillars: people, business and communities. “This moment calls for big, structural changes, and we’re committed to being agents of that progress," he said.

PepsiCo isn’t the only company reexamining its portfolio of brands. Mars of McLean, Va., is reportedly “evolving” its Uncle Ben’s rice brand. “As a global brand, we know we have a responsibility to take a stand in helping to put an end to racial bias and injustices,” a Mars spokesperson said in a statement to HuffPost.

And in February, Land O’Lakes butter of Arden Hills, Minn., announced that it was launching new packaging that would highlight its “farmer-owned” appeal and no longer feature a Native American woman on its products.

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