American food products with racial connotations are about to get a name change. This problem of racial labeling is not limited to the USA.
Germany, too, is seeing an increased awareness in how product labels stereotype and stigmatize people of various ethnicities.
The Stollwerck confectionery company’s Sarotti Mohr figure, a logo showing a turbaned black figure, was designed in 1918. For decades one of the most famous German trademarks, it has long since disappeared. (shown above)
Deutsche Welle 6.21.2020
Aunt Jemima’s syrup and Uncle Ben’s rice have long been part of pop culture, but the logos will now be changed to tune into Black Lives Matter awareness. In Germany, a turbaned black man was turned into a magician.
Just a few shelves further down the supermarket aisle, shoppers can find Aunt Jemima baking and breakfast products. Here, the brand logo shows a black woman with a radiant smile — a logo that was created 131 years ago.
“Uncle and Aunt,” that’s what they used to call black people in the South. Soon Uncle Ben and Aunt Jemima will be history, the US corporations behind the brands say. They acknowledge that they have served racist stereotypes, according to Kristin Kroepfl, vice president and brand director of the PepsiCo subsidiary Quaker Foods North America, owner of the Jemima brand.
It remains to be seen how long Uncle Ben and Aunt Jemima will continue to smile at consumers from the shelves. “We do not yet know exactly what the changes will look like, and we do not have a timetable yet, but we are examining all the possibilities,” a Mars Inc spokeswoman says. Marketing expert Pascal Lauscher has a solution: “Why can’t Uncle Ben just be a white guy?”
Read more: ‘Coolest Monkey in the Jungle’: the long history of racism in advertising
For many critics, the logos should have been changed long ago.
On their websites, the US corporations have long presented themselves as politically correct: “The world we want tomorrow starts with how we do business today,” is the marketing slogan of Mars inc, Uncle Ben’s parent company. The food giant speaks out against “modern slave labor,” child labor and other ethically unacceptable standards in its supply chains.
Logos tell a story
The fact that the controversial rice packets with the Uncle Ben’s logo can still be found on supermarket shelves around the world has a reason, according to Pascal Lauscher, head of the Munich-based mmntm brand strategists.
“When I see many brands next to each other on a supermarket shelf, I pick the one I like and am familiar with,” he says, adding that is why companies spend a lot of money to build a brand history. “That’s why companies followed the old marketing rule: “Don’t touch the logo.” It’s “one of the most important identifying marks of a brand — it tells a story,” Lauscher told DW.
In this case, it is unfortunately the wrong one, he adds. “And that is why, logically, in view of the political situation, the companies are forced to change the logo and thus also change the story.”
From Pasca Lauscher’s view, the US corporations come too late; they should have made changes long before George Floyd’s death and the massive protests against racism that followed. “Changing the logo now is akin to saying, until now racism was not important to me and I didn’t want to sacrifice the logo because of discrimination against people with a different skin color,” he argues. But people will notice and they will wonder about the corporations’ practices, he adds.
Stollwerck turned the figure into a similarly-clad but golden-skinned magician character in 2004. A popular chocolate-covered marshmallow-type candy called a “Mohrenkopf” (Moor’s head) and similar sweets called “Negerkuss” (Negro kiss) have long since become “chocolate kisses.”
Politically incorrect names: German cookies and sweets
The pastry, now known as “Schokokuss” (Chocolate Kiss) is popular in Germany, particularly during Carnival every February.
Formerly known as “Mohrenkopf” (“Moorish head”), the name of the pastry was altered because of its racialized reference to Muslim inhabitants across what is now Europe and North Africa during the Middle Ages.
Photo – Lübeck, Germany. May 2017 – Lee Heidhues
German companies have already tried to deflect damage to their brands. The Bahlsen group recently reacted to accusations of racism for crispy chocolate-covered wafers it sold under the name “Africa.” “We launched this product 60 years ago and then, as now, racism was not part of our thinking,” the biscuit manufacturer explained in March 2020, “In order to avoid our product evoking associations with racism, we are already working on renaming it”