It’s been a bad week for some storied, racist brands.
The companies behind Cream of Wheat hot cereal and Mrs. Butterworth’s syrup said on Wednesday evening that they would review their branding, following the news earlier in the day that the Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben’s product lines would go through similar reviews.
B&G Foods, the parent company behind Cream of Wheat, said in a statement that it was “initiating an immediate review” of the breakfast food’s packaging.
The box for Cream of Wheat, which began being sold in 1893, has for decades featured a Black chef, believed to be based on Chicago chef Frank L. White, who died in 1938. Until the mid-1920s, the product’s mascot was known as Rastus, a racist caricature of a Black man.
"We understand 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,” B&G Foods said in its statement. “B&G Foods unequivocally stands against prejudice and injustice of any kind.”
On Wednesday evening, Conagra Foods announced it would begin “a complete brand and packaging review” on the Mrs. Butterworth’s line of syrup.
“The Mrs. Butterworth's brand, including its syrup packaging, is intended to evoke the images of a loving grandmother. We stand in solidarity with our Black and Brown communities, and we can see that our packaging may be interpreted in a way that is wholly inconsistent with our values,” Conagra Brands said.
While the “mammy” stereotype behind the Aunt Jemima product line has been much clearer and more widely discussed, the Mrs. Butterworth character was reportedly modeled on the Black actress Thelma “Butterfly” McQueen, who played the role of a maid in the 1939 movie “Gone With the Wind.”
Mrs. Butterworth is “presented as an overweight woman wearing an apron and a homely dress with her hair pulled back and a bandana tied to hold her hair in place,” University of Cincinnati professor Ronald L. Jackson II wrote in his 2006 book “Scripting the Black Masculine Body.”
“It's heartbreaking and unacceptable that racism and racial injustices exist around the world,” Conagra said. “We will be part of the solution. Let's work together to progress toward change.”
Cover: Mrs. Butterworth's products seen displayed on supermarket shelves. (Photo by Ron Adar/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)