Featured image for What Happened With the Mrs. Butterworth's Bottle Change?

What Happened With the Mrs. Butterworth's Bottle Change?

by Rudy Sanchez on 09/06/2022 | 3 Minute Read

The summer of 2020 was an inflection point in the ongoing conversation about race in America. Sparked by a tragic number of deaths of Black people at the hands of police, protestors took to the street in protest, pushing for reform that eliminates inherent and institutional racial bias.

But brands also started to consider the elements of their identity with racist origins. Brands like Aunt Jemima, Uncle Ben’s, Cream of Wheat, and the Washington Redskins rebranded to remove their blatantly obvious racist branding. While no one would argue that this would instantly cure racism in America, it was an overdue step for brands that had maintained the status quo for too long.

In July 2020, Conagra also announced it would conduct a brand review for Mrs. Butterworth’s, acknowledging that consumers could see the packaging, particularly its signature syrup bottle silhouette, as racist.

Editorial photograph

“The Mrs. Butterworth's brand, including its syrup packaging, is intended to evoke the images of a loving grandmother. We stand in solidarity with our Black and Brown communities, and we can see that our packaging may be interpreted in a way that is wholly inconsistent with our values,” Conagra said at the time.

While Mrs. Butterworth might give off granny vibes, many have criticized the bottle shape as reminiscent of the “mammy” stereotype. Some claim that the Mrs. Butterworth character is based on the actor Butterfly McQueen, best known for portraying Prissy in Gone with the Wind. However, there is no confirmation that McQueen or the mammy stereotype inspired Mrs. Butterworth’s bottle.

“Mrs. Butterworth’s was really architected to resemble a loving grandmother, but we can understand how some people may view it differently, may find it offensive,” Conagra CEO Sean Connolly said on Jim Cramer’s Mad Money shortly after announcing the brand review. “We’re really in the listening mode right now. We want to understand what a diverse range of our consumers and our employees think, and we want to do what’s right.”

In the two years since, however, Conagra has yet to announce the completion of that brand review, and the firm continues to sell syrup in the same bottle. It’s unclear if Mrs. Butterworth’s brand review is still ongoing, what conclusions Conagra reached, or what changes they intend to make. 

Editorial photograph

A more cynical conclusion is that Conagra announced Mrs. Butterworth’s brand review at the same time as other racially insensitive brands but ultimately decided—quietly—to make no changes. Conagra might have painted itself into a corner by initially recognizing how some consumers perceive the packaging as racist. If they concluded that Mrs. Butterworth’s bottle isn’t really racist enough to change, explaining that to Black and Brown communities it said it stood in solidarity with would be incredibly awkward, at best.

Only Conagra can say why it continues to sell its “thick and rich” syrup in the same bottle that has been criticized for years (Dieline reached out multiple times to Conagra regarding Mrs. Butterworth’s brand review and has not received a response). If Conagra has decided to do nothing about its branding, it could also quietly change the bottle without firing off a press release. Enough consumers see the negative mammy stereotype that its continued use likely reinforces hidden and inherent racial prejudices against Black women.

It’s significant that Conagra recognized that consumers perceive Mrs. Butterworth’s packaging as racist and problematic. But so far, there’s been little change to the brand, while other CPG brands have refreshed their branding to remove racist imagery. Telling consumers you’re listening is great, but communication and transparency would go a long way in showing sincerity and solidarity. And two years is a long time for an update.

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