The Reason Cream Of Wheat Is Changing Its Packaging

The makers of Cream of Wheat announced they are removing the image of a Black chef from their products starting early next year (via USA Today). B&G Foods joins the companies that make Aunt Jemima pancake syrup and the rice formerly known as Uncle Ben's in an effort to update their branding, as a response to calls for racial justice in the United States. The food manufacturer Mars previously announced that Uncle Ben's is now Ben's Original, although the new packaging won't appear on store shelves until next year.

Cream of Wheat, which is simply farina (wheat germ and endosperm, via The Kitchen Revival), comes in different flavors and cooking times, and it also includes a line of Cream of Rice products.

Cream of Wheat's website shows historical advertisements for the brand, dating from 1908 to 1937. Many depict the always-smiling Black chef, dressed in white with a chef's hat. The gallery of advertisements omits one from 1921 showing the chef with a chalkboard that reads, "Maybe Cream of Wheat ain't got no vitamines. 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." The message is signed, "Rastus," the name given to the fictional chef by Cream of Wheat's founder, Emery Mapes (via Historyapolis). The name came from media representations of Black men at the time that reinforced harmful stereotypes (via Food Tells a Story).

Makers of Cream of Wheat are also planning a scholarship fund

According to Ferris State University, which runs the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia, the image of the Cream of Wheat chef most likely belonged to Frank White, a real chef who was photographed for the company in 1900 while working in a Chicago restaurant. Other than a small image on the product's boxes, Cream of Wheat hadn't used the chef in marketing for generations, according to Food Dive. The name "Rastus" hasn't appeared anywhere in association with Cream of Wheat for a long time, either, according to Food Tells a Story. But in June, less than a month after police killed George Floyd in Minneapolis, B&G Foods announced it would reevaluate its packaging. The company, which acquired the brand in 2007, acknowledged that people had concerns about the image of the chef. "While research indicates the image may be based upon an actual Chicago chef named Frank White, it reminds some consumers of earlier depictions they find offensive," B&G Foods told USA Today.

B&G Foods also said it is working with culinary schools to develop scholarships and other opportunities that would bring more Black and Latinx students into the restaurant and food industries. Details of these programs weren't reported. In addition to renaming Ben's Original, Mars donated $2 million to a scholarship fund for Black chefs.