How the Aunt Jemima Rebrand Missed the Mark

After 131 years of being a familiar face in the breakfast aisle, Aunt Jemima’s image was replaced. This didn’t come as a surprise — Quaker and its owner, PepsiCo, were pushed to address the racist history behind the brand in June 2020, among global protests for Black lives and racial equity. The brand’s decision to address its package design was an important one, but the replacement of Aunt Jemima with the Pearl Milling Company revealed a misunderstanding of the Black community and of the impact of racist imagery.

Aunt Jemima was first introduced in 1889 with the hope that her Mammy-like character would attract American shoppers by referencing archetypes of the “good ole South”. The now household name, “Aunt Jemima”, was originally inspired by Billy Kersands’ minstrelsy song about a slave whose freedom was promised, but required the death of her master. Some of the brand’s earliest marketing included Black women dressed as the character at the 1893 World’s Fair and later, a pancake-themed Aunt Jemima restaurant at Disney’s Frontierland.

Named among the Pillsbury Doughboy and the Michelin Man on AdAge’s list of the Top Ten Most Iconic Brands of the 20th century, Aunt Jemima originally appeared in a headscarf, but most recently appeared donning a lace collar and pearls. And then in February 2020, suddenly she was gone.

The decision PepsiCo and Quaker made to replace Aunt Jemima with a manufacturing plant was a missed opportunity to show up as allies to the Black community. In the brand’s announcement, Quaker indicated plans to announce a $1 MM commitment to “empower and uplift Black girls and women” without much specificity, but this rebrand could have been used to reverse the harm done, and to give Black Americans opportunities never extended to Aunt Jemima and women like her in the antebellum south.

Here’s how:

This rebrand could have educated America about the history of the Aunt Jemima character, and the legacy of slavery.

Characters like Aunt Jemima were created by white people to change slavery’s representation, from a horrific reality to an enjoyable farse. These characters are typically shown smiling as they cared for the families that used their bodies for forced labor, physically abused them and broke their own families apart. History must reflect that Aunt Jemima, and so many others like her, were forced to whistle while they worked with tragic consequences if they did not. To educate the masses about this, Aunt Jemima product packaging could have been used to share information about the legacy of slavery, minstrelsy, and racism.

The rebrand could have honored and celebrated iconic Black Women.

Aunt Jemima’s image grew wealth for the brand she represented and Black women represent tremendous value in the United States. PepsiCo had the opportunity to celebrate this fact by replacing Aunt Jemima with a series of iconic Black women, allowing the brand to showcase those who created their own legacies, especially in the culinary space. A 2017 petition to replace Aunt Jemima with B. Smith, a Black restaurateur, model and businesswoman, garnered over two thousand signatures. Smith is a perfect suggestion: she celebrated Southern cooking traditions and embodied domesticity that the American narrative typically exploits about Black women, while also demonstrating business prowess and ambition that set a powerful example for Black girls. Black people had a problem with the racist history behind the Aunt Jemima character, but enjoyed seeing a Black face on a beloved product, and that face has now been erased.

The rebrand could have given Black women a seat at the table and driven financial equity for the Black community.

Aunt Jemima couldn’t speak for herself, but Black women can. In making this rebranding decision, PepsiCo had the opportunity to engage a Black woman-founded agency to guide them through this process and placed that company on an ongoing retainer. This would ensure that the perspectives of the Black community remained a consistent part of the new Pearl Milling Company. Instead, the company did not release specifics about those behind the change and the details surrounding it.

The United States has a legacy of exploiting Black people to generate profit, without creating clear paths to wealth for that community, beginning with slavery and continuing today. Reparations have yet to be paid to the Black community for the horror that slavery was, but slave owners were paid reparations for “lost property” through the Compensated Emancipation Act of 1862. True allyship with the Black community includes wealth creation, and by paying licensing fees to Aunt Jemima’s replacement(s), while also paying a Black woman-owned agency to support this sensitive transition, could have allowed PepsiCo to begin to replace the financial value attributed to their brand through Aunt Jemima’s image.

Quaker and PepsiCo are among many brands who brand history includes racism. As brands continue to be called to face their past, it is imperative that they engage partners representing the communities to which they’ve done harm. The Aunt Jemima rebrand is an example of the real opportunity that exists in brand evolution, and can serve as inspiration for brand leaders to adequately address the impact of their actions when reacting to criticism. If they fail to, they miss the chance to transform shameful memories into real equity, and to build brands that people can once again love and celebrate.

About the Author:

Kirstyn Nimmo, is the Founder of, GOOD WORX, a social innovation consultancy that creates turnkey allyship solutions that equip companies and communities to generate equity, act with accountability, and shift culture toward equality. In today’s climate, businesses are understanding the urgency of the issues facing underrepresented communities and that their influence can play a positive role in meeting society’s biggest challenges. Through allyship and anti-racism action, GOOD WORX partners with today’s top brands to play a role in fighting racial inequality.



Kirstyn Nimmo is founder of social innovation consultancy GOOD WORX and creates turnkey allyship and antiracism solutions. Learn more at

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Kirstyn Nimmo

Kirstyn Nimmo is founder of social innovation consultancy GOOD WORX and creates turnkey allyship and antiracism solutions. Learn more at