Trader Joe’s is doing away with store brand labels derided as racist in an online petition, becoming the latest major company to dispatch with names and images that perpetuate stereotypes.
The grocer said it had decided years ago to adopt the Trader Joe’s banner on its entire product lineup, instead of using such ethnic-sounding variations as Trader Jose’s on Mexican food products and Trader Ming’s on Chinese fare.
But a Change.org petition apparently helped fast-track the process.
“The grocery chain labels some of its ethnic foods with modifications of ‘Joe’ that belies a narrative of exoticism that perpetuates harmful stereotypes,” writes Briones Bedell, who launched the petition.
“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,” she said.
Bedell’s petition, which has drawn more than 2,800 signatures, also criticized the use of “Arabian Joe” to brand Middle Eastern foods, “Trader Giotto’s” for Italian goods, and “Trader Joe San” for Japanese cuisine.
Trader Joe’s said the naming conventions were intended to be playful, but acknowledged they may have had the “opposite effect.”
“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.
The grocer said it already has changed the packaging on a number of products, and that it expects to complete the process “very soon,” on the rest of the offending items.
Bedell, an activist and a high school senior in the San Francisco Bay Area, was glad to see Trader Joe’s announcement but said she wanted the retailer to provide a timeline for the name changes and pull the products in the meantime.
“When anyone chooses to represent a culture, especially one that’s not their own, it is necessary to take measures, to ensure that they are not furthering prejudice, discrimination or misunderstanding, regardless of the intention,” she said.
Privately held Trader Joe’s opened its first store in Pasadena, Calif., in 1967. Today, now headquartered in nearby Monrovia, the grocer known for low prices and associates in festive Aloha shirts has more than 500 locations in 42 states and the District of Columbia. Last year, it had an estimated $13.7 billion in net sales.
Trader Joe’s is one of several brands to pivot away from marketing and naming conventions rooted in racial stereotypes.
Last month, the makers of Aunt Jemima said they would drop the brand’s name and logo from its syrup and pancake mix by the end of 2020. The brand has been criticized for years for perpetuating and profiting from the “mammy” figure. But nationwide racial justice protests following the killing of George Floyd in police custody brought new urgency and attention to systemic racism in American life, including elements of consumer brands that perpetuate stereotypes.
“We recognize Aunt Jemima’s origins are based on a racial stereotype,” Kristin Kroepfl, vice president and chief marketing officer of parent company Quaker Foods North America, said last month.
The companies behind Cream of Wheat porridge, Uncle Ben’s Rice and Mrs. Butterworth pancake syrups also have committed to reviewing and changing their product names and packaging, after relying on branding that evokes racist stereotypes of subservience.
And after two decades of resisting calls to change the name of the Washington football franchise, which is a slur against Native Americans, the NFL team announced it will retire the name, and is expected to choose a new one before the regular season begins in September.