Last summer I posted Branding 2020 – Part I Responsible Messaging. In addition to the pandemic, racism in America was a noteworthy issue. Quaker Foods announced they were going to rebrand Aunt Jemima given the brand’s racial stereotypes. Last week PepsiCo. publicized the rebrand as the Pearl Milling Company. Trivial!
I am an Aunt Jemima brand alumnus. I was the junior member of the AJ brand team back in 1986. We decided to rebrand Aunt Jemima by providing her with a graphic facelift – a fresh profile, plus removed her bandana. I remember the countless meetings, plus traveling around the country conducting focus groups listening to Afro-Americans voice their concern about racist branding. In retrospect, maybe a naïve advertising mishap only settling for a packaging redesign of her image versus a total rebrand including changing her name. Consequently, I wanted to get a better understanding of the origin of Pearl Milling Company. This is what I learned:
- The current line of Aunt Jemima pancake mixes, syrups, cornmeal, flour and grits rebranded to Pearl Milling Company in the familiar red packaging, will arrive on supermarket shelves June 2021.
- The Pearl Milling Company dates back to 1889, when a small mill in St. Joseph, Missouri developed a milling process producing flour, cornmeal and self-rising pancake mix that would go on to be known as Aunt Jemima.
- PepsiCo Inc.’s press release (a.k.a. corporate speak) indicted Quaker Foods worked with consumers, employees, external cultural subject-matter experts and diverse agency partners to gather broad perspectives to ensure the new brand was developed with inclusivity in mind. They also announced they will initiate a $1 million commitment to “empower and uplift Black girls and women” in addition to PepsiCo’s more than $400 million, five-year investment to uplift Black business and communities, plus increase Black representation at PepsiCo.
As I stated above, I remember the countless meetings we conducted back in 1986 to rebrand Aunt Jemima. I can only imagine the number of meetings already conducted and the future meetings needed to launch Pearl Milling Company by June of 2021. FYI: Other brands scheduled to rebrand thanks to the racial reckoning of 2020 include Uncle Ben’s, Cream of Wheat, Mrs. Butterworth’s and Eskimo Pie.
Back when I was a product manager in corporate America, rebranding was like a face lift. We wanted to refresh our brand messaging to sell more widgets. Rebranding in 2021 sounds woke: trivial rebranding!