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Aunt Jemima to Pearl Milling: Embracing Diversity and Addressing Racial Stereotypes in Branding
By Tsani Gramatikova access_time 3 min read

Aunt Jemima’s pancake mix and syrups were initially introduced in 1888–1889 by the Pearl Milling Company and were advertised as the first “ready-mix” cooking product.

For over a century, Aunt Jemima’s branding incorporated a Black woman character that was initially portrayed in a way that reinforced racial stereotypes. Despite several attempts to modernise the brand, it continued to attract controversy. This led to PepsiCo’s announcement in June 2020, amidst global racial unrest, that it would retire the Aunt Jemima brand to progress toward racial equality. A year later, on February 9, 2021, PepsiCo announced the brand’s transition back to its original name, Pearl Milling Company, marking a significant step in reconnecting with its roots while distancing itself from the controversial imagery. 

This rebranding was part of a broader initiative to address and correct historical injustices associated with the Aunt Jemima brand. The new name was chosen after extensive consultations with cultural experts and community stakeholders to ensure it resonated with today’s values of inclusivity and diversity.

We recognise Aunt Jemima’s origins are based on a racial stereotype. 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, PepsiCo in a company’s statement

PepsiCo temporarily maintained the Aunt Jemima logotype on packaging during the rebranding process to comply with trademark laws. This measure was necessary to prevent other parties from acquiring and misusing the name. PepsiCo’s approach demonstrates a careful balance between respecting legal obligations and making ethical decisions that reflect modern societal values.

Alongside the rebrand, Pearl Milling Company announced a $1 million pledge to empower and uplift Black girls and women, emphasising the brand’s commitment to positive community impact. 

A growing awareness of racial and cultural sensitivities and social pressure has led to brand rebranding in the past few years. Aunt Jemima’s transformation exemplifies this shift to align with contemporary values, emphasising inclusivity and respecting cultural histories. Branding and naming are increasingly being revised to resonate with a more conscious consumer base while contributing positively to societal discourse.

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