- Land O’Lakes redesigned its packaging to focus on farmers and commemorate the 100th anniversary of the brand, according to the company. The Native American "butter maiden" is no longer a part of its branding.
- The brand has faced criticism that its original 1928 logo was racist and an example of cultural appropriation, reported Modern Farmer. The new logo is similar to the old one but only features a view of a lake and forest with text that is updated to say "farmer-owned" and "since 1921" below the brand name.
- The new packaging has started to appear on tubs of butter spreads and foodservice products, Land O’Lakes said. It will arrive on stick butter by summer 2020 and the rest of Land O’Lakes' products by the end of 2020.
Packaging matters. There was a time when Joe Camel, the Hamburglar, the Frito Bandito and Anheuser Busch’s Spuds McKenzie were familiar sights on American packaging. However, due to public outcry, they were all eventually phased out for various reasons in favor of more generic mascots.
A successful mascot bonds people to brands, and the power those images can last for decades, translating into positive sentiment about a brand throughout a consumer's life. The familiar image of the woman on the Land O’Lakes label has been on grocery store shelves for generations and its removal is likely to attract the interest of consumers who notice a difference.
Land O’Lakes could have drastically overhauled its tubs and boxes but the dairy giant no doubt is aware of the value its product packaging and the image that shoppers associate with the brand.
Instead of completely redesigning the brand’s packaging, Land O’Lakes opted to simply omit the Native American woman and leave an empty "O" in her place. The background remains a picturesque view of a crystal blue lake surrounded by pine trees with a yellow background. While the company said this was an update to commemorate the brand’s 100th anniversary, the singular removal of the most obvious aspect of the branding tells another story.
For years, the iconic image of the Native American woman, whose name is Mia, has been criticized for being inappropriate. In 2005, the American Psychological Association called for all American Indian mascots to be retired, citing evidence of racial stereotypes harming social identity and self-esteem. In the announcement of the logo change, there was no mention of Mia’s absence. Instead, Land O’Lakes chose to focus on promoting the farmers that own the company and spotlight them as the impetus behind the brand update.
“As Land O’Lakes looks toward our 100th anniversary, we’ve recognized we need packaging that reflects the foundation and heart of our company culture — and nothing does that better than our farmer-owners whose milk is used to produce Land O’Lakes’ dairy products,” Beth Ford, president and CEO of Land O’Lakes, said in a statement.
Interestingly, only some products, including stick butter, will also include photos of real Land O’Lakes farmers and co-op members. The company’s quiet removal of her image is likely an attempt to update its image without addressing the national conversation that has built up around the use of stereotypical imagery.
Land O’Lakes is not the first brand to reimagine branding that was based on a culturally inappropriate mascot. Quaker’s Aunt Jemima, Uncle Ben’s rice, porridge mix Cream of Wheat and Chiquita have all been altered to some extent. Unlike Land O’Lakes, however, these mascots continue to exist, albeit with varying levels of controversy still attached to their images.
Going forward, it is probable that companies will continue to pursue updates to iconic images and mascots that are no longer socially acceptable. After all, brand refreshes are commonplace and there is no better time than a brand update to bring a design up to 21st century standards.
Although accomplishing this successfully will take some thought, many brands have shown success in using generic imagery. GoGo SqueeZ chose to feature anthropomorphic fruits drawn simply, with little arms and legs. If Land O'Lakes decides to reintroduce a character, perhaps it will also take this approach.