Trader Joe's won't change ethic-sounding brand labels after petition sought their removal terming them 'racist'

A petition launched early July garnered more than 5,000 signatures to remove such branding from shelves. However, the grocery chain has now clarified that it will not be rebranding the products.


                            Trader Joe's won't change ethic-sounding brand labels after petition sought their removal terming them 'racist'
(Getty Images)

Trader Joe's has declared it isn't removing branding that was labeled "racist" after previously saying names such as Trader Ming's and Trader Jose's may have had the "opposite" effect of that a "welcoming customer experience." A petition launched early July garnered more than 5,000 signatures to remove such branding from shelves. However, the grocery chain has now clarified that it will not be rebranding the products.

"We disagree that any of these labels are racist. We do not make decisions based on petitions," Trader Joe's wrote on its website. "We make decisions based on what customers purchase, as well as the feedback we receive from our customers and Crew Members. If we feel there is a need for change, we do not hesitate to take action."

At least six brands sold by the California-based grocer used popular or common references from a number of other countries to sell their products.

"It named Mexican beer 'Trader José Premium', Chinese-inspired salad and Thai noodles both under 'Trader Ming's', Teriyaki sauce Trader Joe San and pizza imported from Italy goes under the label Trader Giotto's," the Daily Mail reported.

Taking issue with the branding, 17-year-old Briones Bedell argued in the petition that the grocery chain had labeled some of its "ethnic foods with modifications of 'Joe' that belies a narrative of exoticism that perpetuates harmful stereotypes." "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," it continued. "The common thread between all of these transgressions is the perpetuation of exoticism, the goal of which is not to appreciate other cultures, but to further other and distance them from the perceived 'normal'."

In response, Trader Joe's explained that the changes it had made in the past were solely based on sales. "We constantly reevaluate what we are doing to ensure it makes sense for our business and aligns with customers' expectations," the brand continued. "A couple of years ago we asked our Buying Team to review all our products to see if we needed to update any older packages, and also see if the associated brands developed years ago needed to be refreshed."

"We found that some of the older names or products just weren't connecting or selling very well; so, they were discontinued. It's kind of what we do," it added.

In a statement last Friday, the company explained that the creative decisions made by their sales team decades ago were still meant in "fun and [to] show appreciation for other cultures" in 2020.

Several customers have reportedly reaffirmed to the grocery store that the name variations are "largely viewed in exactly the way they were intended." The products, therefore, will continue to remain on shelves as they still resonate with customers. Having said that, it was a U-turn for Trader Joe's after having previously said in a statement that it had decided to stop selling products under alternative names. At the time, they claimed they were still in the process of phasing out controversial labels.

If you have a news scoop or an interesting story for us, please reach out at (323) 421-7514