By: Kevin Shaughnessy
Trader Joe’s is making an effort to rid its products of “racist” ethnic food branding. Amid an ongoing petition calling for the removal of ethnic brand names, the California-based grocery chain said it is working to phase out stereotypical names it has attached to foreign foods, such as “Trader José’s” for Mexican items, “Trader Ming’s” for Chinese foods, “Trader Joe San” for Japanese cuisine, and “Arabian Joe’s” for Middle Eastern selections.
The online petition on Change.org, which has drawn over 2,800 signatures, was launched by Briones Bedell, a California high school senior. “The grocery chain labels some of its ethnic foods with modifications of ‘Joe’ that belies a narrative of exoticism that perpetuates harmful stereotypes,” wrote Bedell. “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 added.
Trader Joe’s said that for years it had been contemplating a way to ditch the ethnic-sounding variations and adopt a universal Trader Joe’s banner, and that this petition just sped up the process, as per the Washington Post. “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,” Trader Joe’s spokeswoman Kenya Friend-Daniel said in a statement. She said the company hopes the transition will be completed “very soon”. “We had hoped that the work would be complete by now, but there are still a small number of products going through the packaging change,” Friend-Daniel added.
As reported by the NY Post, Trader Joe’s is not the first company to discard racially insensitive brands amidst a country-wide movement against racism, sparked by the tragic death of George Floyd. Similarly, Quaker Oats announced last month that it will be abandoning the Aunt Jemima breakfast brand name, which it said was rooted in a “racial stereotype.” Also, Mars Inc. said it is “evolving” the Uncle Ben’s rice brand name, and also Conagra Foods is rethinking the name for its Mrs. Butterworth’s syrup line.
“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,’” the change.org petition reads.
Despite the reassurance for a speedy remedy, Bedell persisted on Sunday calling on Trader Joe’s to announce a specific date for the completion of the rebranding, or in the interim for the removal of all products that are not yet “inclusive.”