Cream of Wheat's logo is under "immediate review," parent company B&G Foods announced Thursday, making it one of a handful of companies currently planning to overhaul names and packaging that have been criticized for harmful racial stereotypes. The rebrand, which is taking place for the likes of Aunt Jemima's breakfast products as well as Uncle Ben's rice, comes amid growing calls for racial equality.
In a statement Thursday morning, B&G Foods said it is "initiating an immediate review" of the brand’s packaging and that it "unequivocally stands against prejudice and injustice of any kind." The company acknowledged that "there are concerns regarding the Chef image, and we are committed to evaluating our packaging and will proactively take steps to ensure that we and our brands do not inadvertently contribute to systemic racism."
A popular item sitting on grocery store shelves across the country, Cream of Wheat boxes feature the image of a smiling Black chef, who is widely believed to be based on Chicago chef Frank L. White, who died in 1938, CNN Business reports. Before White's image took over the packaging, however, Cream of Wheat's original mascot was Rastus, a smiling Black chef whose name has been shorthand for a derogatory slur against Black men and a harmful stereotypical caricature that solidified white stereotypes of happy Black servants.
According to The Historyapolis Project, Rastus was based off "the cheerful simpletons depicted by Joel Chandler Harris in his Uncle Remus books." He was often depicted as being nearly illiterate. In a 1921 advertisement, Rastus held a sign reading, "Maybe Cream of Wheat Ain't got no vitamins. I don't know what them Things is. If they’s bugs They ain't none in Cream Of Wheat but she’s sho’ good To eat and cheap. Costs 'bout 1 cent fo a great big dish." Although Rastus was later replaced with White, Naa Oyo A. Kwate, associate professor of Africana studies at Rutgers University, said the subtext behind the imagery remains.
"You still are referencing the place of black people as servants, as your chefs," Kwate said. "You can still draw on that legacy of what slavery meant and what black people's natural position is supposed to be – your own personal slave in a box."
In recent days, a number of brands have announced plans to reevaluate, with Quaker Oats having been the first to announce Wednesday that after 121 years, it would retire Aunt Jemima from packaging on its brand of syrup and pancake mixes because it's "based on a racial stereotype." That announcement was followed just hours later by one from Mars Inc., which said that now "is the right time to evolve the Uncle Ben's brand, including its visual brand identity."