Aunt Jemima’s Name Change Gains Wide Awareness But Questionable Impact on Sales, According to New Poll

Ad Age-Harris surveys consumer opinions on the closely watched change to Pearl Milling Company

By E.J. Schultz | Ad Age | Feb 18, 2021

PepsiCo has drawn widespread attention by rebranding Aunt Jemima to remove ties to a racial stereotype, but the move is not poised to move the sales needle by a lot either way—at least, not yet.

According to a new Ad Age-Harris poll, 66% of consumers are aware of the name change to Pearl Milling Company, but only 23% said the overhaul would make them more likely to buy from the brand. More consumers, 28%, said the update would make them less likely to buy products from the brand, which markets pancake syrup and mix products. And 43% said it would have no impact on their purchasing decision.

PepsiCo’s Quaker division revealed the new look last week, after spending several months consulting with internal and external advisers while considering a list of 300 potential names. Pearl Milling Company is a return to the name of the company founded in 1888 in St. Joseph, Missouri that introduced self-rising pancake mix in 1889. New packaging is set to appear in June.

The consumer reception to the overhaul will be closely watched inside the food industry as multiple brands redo their branding to erase racist imagery. Cream of Wheat is removing the Black man from its packaging, for instance, and Mrs. Butterworth’s is in the midst of its own review.

According to the poll, consumers are evenly divided on the need for brands with controversial names to rebrand: 51% stated they should not, while 49% said they should. But the demand for change is higher among people of color, with 63% of Black consumers and 61% of Hispanic consumers saying these products should be rebranded, while only 42% of white consumers supported change.

There are also big differences among age groups: Almost two-thirds of consumers aged 18-34 said brands with controversial names should be rebranded compared with just 35% for the 55-64 age group.

“While consumers overall are divided on the rebranding of controversial brand names, it is clear that people of color largely support these changes. A name change may not do much to drive sales, as we can see in the data, but it accomplishes an important goal: it signals to the consumers most impacted by racial stereotyping that they are heard and respected,” says Will Johnson, CEO of The Harris Poll.

The poll was conducted online in the U.S. from Feb. 12-15 among 1,082 U.S. adults ages 18 and older. Below, some more findings:

• Of those who support name changes for controversial brands, the majority, 52%, said they should do so because “brands should care about respecting people from different backgrounds and lifestyles.”

• But only 35% of those supporting the name changes said they would respect the brand more.

• Of those who don’t support name changes, 58% stated that it is because the brands are already well known as they are.

• Of these people, 45% said that because “the name is from a different era, consumers shouldn’t take offense.”

Read the full story at Ad Age.