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Trader Joe’s Reverses Course, Will Keep Ethnic Food Names

Update July 31, 2020: Trader Joe’s will not be renaming ethnic food packaging that some find offensive. Instead, the grocery chain released a statement dismissing a petition signed by customers seeking a change to the packaging.

Trader Joe’s officials have changed the minds about renaming packaging of ethnic food.

In a very visible flip-flop, Trader Joe’s is no longer changing the packaging name of its ethnic products. The decision comes after mounting calls for the grocery chain to do better and change the name of ethnic products.

“In light of recent feedback and attention we’ve received about our product naming, we have some things we’d like to say to clarify our approach,” reads the statement on the Trader Joe’s website. “A few weeks ago, an online petition was launched calling on us to ‘remove racist packaging from [our] products.’ Following were inaccurate reports that the petition prompted us to take action. We want to be clear: we disagree that any of these labels are racist. We do not make decisions based on petitions. 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 need for change, we do not hesitate to take action.”

Looks like Trader Ming’s and Trader José are here to stay.

Original: If you’re feeling a little disenchanted by the progress of nationwide protests over racial inequality, you might find some light looking at the recent mass of rebranded products by companies. Protests online about companies who have amassed their wealth on products that promote racial stereotypes have prompted brands like Quaker Oats, PepsiCo, Colgate, and Nestlé to acknowledge their roles in perpetuating racial issues through their products and make changes. That’s right brands like Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben’s rice are changing. Now, Trader Joe’s is up for its reckoning.

Over 1,700 people have signed a petition pressing Trader Joe’s to make changes to some of their food products.

The petition, which was kicked off by Briones Bedell (high school senior from California) two weeks ago, accuses the grocery chain’s branding of being “racist.”

“The grocery chain labels some of its ethnic foods with modifications of ‘Joe’ that belies a narrative of exoticism that perpetuates harmful stereotypes,” the petition explains.

The petition points to the grocery chain’s international food items whose names include Trader Ming’s, Trader José, and Trader Giotto’s.

Those products and others reflect “a narrative of exoticism that perpetuates harmful stereotypes,” according to the petition, which on Sunday had been signed by more than 1,500 people. “They’re racist because they exoticize other cultures, present ‘Joe’ as this default normal, and then the other characters — such as Thai Joe, Trader José, Trader Joe San — falling outside of it,” Bedell wrote in the petition.

Bedell’s petition also underlined that Trader Joe’s approach to branding has roots in the “fetishization” of non-Western people.

“The Trader Joe’s company takes pride in the fact that the founder, Joe Coulombe, took inspiration in building the Trader Joe’s brand from a racist book and a controversial theme park attraction, both of which have received criticism for romanticizing Western Imperialism and fetishizing non-Western peoples. We learn directly from the Trader Joe’s website that the first Trader Joe’s store: “had a nautical theme and it was run by people who were described as “traders on the high seas.” At the time, Joe had been reading a book called “White Shadows in the South Seas,” and he’d been to the Disneyland Jungle Trip ride, and it all just…coalesced. To this day, Trader Joe’s Crew Members consider themselves “traders on the culinary seas” and are known for their bright, tropical-patterned shirts…'” the petition explains.

As the petition also points out, the 1919 book White Shadows in the South Seas follows the exploitive nature of trading companies in the late 19th and early 20th centuries which worked to enslave Polynesian islands.

In response to requests for changes, Trader Joe’s has said that they have already set in motion updates to replace “any variations with the name Trader Joe’s.”

“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,” a spokeswoman for Trader Joe’s, said in a statement according to NYT. “Packaging for a number of the products has already been changed, but there’s a small number of products in which the packaging is still going through the process,”

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