Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times, July 20, 2020
Trader Joe’s has responded to criticisms about its packaging by announcing that it is in the process of eliminating labels that use ethnic-sounding names intended to be humorous.
The offending products bear such labels as Trader Ming’s for foods and condiments related to Chinese cuisine, Trader José’s for Mexican-style products and Trader Giotto’s for Italian-themed items.
The company has come under fire in part from a petition, posted for about two weeks, on the Change.org website. It had collected more than 2,000 signatures by Sunday night.
The labels, which offer variations of the Trader Joe’s name, exploit “a narrative of exoticism that perpetuates harmful stereotypes,” according to the petition.
The attention on Trader Joe’s comes amid a nationwide reconsideration of branding that has accompanied the Black Lives Matter movement. Land O’Lakes has removed a Native -American woman from its products. Meanwhile, the images of Black men and women on product lines such as Aunt Jemima, Uncle Ben’s and Mrs. Butterworth are in for a makeover, if they survive at all. The Eskimo Pie name also is becoming history.
“The Trader Joe’s branding is racist because it exoticizes other cultures — it presents ‘Joe’ as the default ‘normal’ and the other characters falling outside of it — they are ‘Arabian Joe,’ ‘Trader José,’ and ‘Trader Joe San,’” the petition says.
The company said in a statement that it decided several years ago to use only the Trader Joe’s name on its products and has been in the process of updating the ethnic-sounding labels.
“While this approach to product naming may have been rooted in a lighthearted attempt at inclusiveness, we recognize that it may now have the opposite effect — one that is contrary to the welcoming, rewarding customer experience we strive to create every day,” company spokeswoman Kenya Friend-Daniel said.
Packaging for a number of the products has already been changed, and the company expects to complete the process “very soon,” she said.
The petition was posted by Briones Bedell, 17, who is about to start her senior year at a San Francisco Bay Area high school. Her family has shopped occasionally at the local Trader Joe’s, and she said Sunday night that offending labels remain throughout the store. Her family isn’t patronizing Trader Joe’s for the time being.
She said she was encouraged by the company’s response but wants Trader Joe’s to commit to a timetable for removing the products with the ethnic-themed labels. She added that she is far from the first person to call public attention to this matter.