Ben’s Original, previously Uncle Ben’s, rolls out first packaging under new name
In September, Uncle Ben’s announced it was changing its name to Ben’s Original and dropped the image of a Black man from its packaging in an effort to detach itself from offensive stereotypes amid the ongoing racial-justice reckoning in America.
Now, the Mars Food brand is releasing the new packaging, which will begin appearing on store shelves in the U.S. this week and will roll out to other countries gradually.
Mars is working with retailers to change out the packaging, but the current rice product will not be removed from store shelves. That means customers will see the new version alongside the old until the previous product sells out.
The new packaging keeps the colors of the original intact so consumers can identify the rice with the brand’s familiar orange background and navy blue font. The Ben’s Original brand mark is a derivative of Cooper Black and what the brand calls a "modernized version of the previous brand mark." Photos of the rice take up the majority of the box or pouch. The rice itself remains unchanged.
Originally, Ben's Original told Ad Age it planned to create “equitable iconography” as part of its rebrand, but says “after careful consideration, including listening to thousands of consumers, associates and customers, we believe the decision to not add new iconography is the best path forward at this stage of our evolution.”
The brand plans to include its new packaging in future ad campaigns and current social media and digital posts. Ben’s Originals worked with Energy BBDO, Jones Knowles Ritchie, The&Partnership, MediaCom and Weber Shandwick on the redesign.
Before becoming Ben’s Original, the brand, which originated in 1946, had been named after a Black Texan farmer known as Uncle Ben. The man in the image was Frank Brown, a Chicago chef and waiter. Over time, the brand’s images became interpreted as promoting racist stereotypes of Black servants. A Mars Food spokesperson previously told Ad Age that it doesn’t know if a real Ben “ever existed.”
Over the past year, several food brands have removed monikers and images with racist associations. PepsiCo’s Aunt Jemima rebranded as Pearl Milling Company and B&G Foods’ Cream of Wheat said it will remove the Black chef from its packaging.
“Today is a big moment for Ben’s Original,” said Denis Yarotskiy, regional president at Mars Food North America. “Getting to this point on our brand evolution journey has been the result of our continuing commitment to listen to consumers, as well as the support and dedication of our Mars Food Associates. But it is just another marker on our journey. We recognize we have much more work to do as we bring our new brand purpose to life to offer everyone a seat at the table; we remain committed to delivering this ambition.”
When Ben’s Original first announced its packaging overhaul in September, it also said it would invest $2.5 million in Greenville, Mississippi, where the 75-year-old brand has produced its rice for U.S. customers for the past 40 years; along with beginning community outreach programs and introducing “Seat at the Table” $25,000 scholarships in partnership with the National Urban League and United Negro College Fund for students pursuing culinary arts or food science degrees.
With the rollout of the new packaging, Ben’s Original announced its investment in Greenville will last for the next five years, with the money going towards students in the area and helping provide access to fresh food.
For the scholarships, the brand says the first round of recipients will be announced at the end of the summer, and new rounds are planned for the next four years. Ben’s Original is also opening up the scholarships to Black high school seniors for a variety of post-high school education prospects.
“Ben’s Original is not just a name and packaging change—we believe everyone deserves to feel welcome, heard and have access to nutritious food,” said Rafael Narvaez, global chief marketing officer and research and development officer at Mars Food in a statement. “That’s why we’ve committed to taking actions based on insights from thousands of consumers, as well as our own associates, designed to enhance inclusion and equity in service of our new brand purpose to create meals, experiences and opportunities that offer everyone a seat at the table.”