Trader Joe’s is being urged to follow the example of other national food companies and rebrand products that critics say perpetuate racial stereotypes.
An online petition is asking the company to “remove racist branding and packaging from its stores,” including international food items carrying the names 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,” said Briones Bedell, 17, who started the petition.
A Trader Joe’s spokeswoman said in a statement that the company had previously decided to get rid of the names and to rebrand its international foods with the Trader Joe’s name.
“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,” said Kenya Friend-Daniel, the company’s national director of public relations. “With this in mind, we made the decision several years ago to use only the Trader Joe’s name on our products moving forward.”
Ms. Friend-Daniel did not say when the change would be completed, but she said the company hoped to finish “very soon” and was in the process of updating older product labels.
“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,” she said.
Ms. Bedell, a rising high school senior and human rights activist, said “the branding remains on shelves and unaddressed” at her local Trader Joe’s in the San Francisco Bay Area.
“There’s an abundance of products in their stores, and I think it’s still important — the petition remains important — because Trader Joe’s lacks the urgency needed in the current climate to remedy the issue,” she said.
The call for Trader Joe’s to rebrand its international foods comes as the national unrest fueled by the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis has prompted other food companies to announce that they were reassessing or doing away with brands that use racist imagery.
Last month, Quaker Oats announced it would retire the Aunt Jemima name and character, which had been associated with its popular pancake mix and syrup for over a century. Mars Food, which makes Uncle Ben’s rice, quickly followed by saying that it would “evolve” the brand’s signature character, a smiling older Black man, without offering details or a specific timetable. Dreyer’s Grand Ice Cream said it would change the name and marketing of its Eskimo Pie chocolate-covered ice cream bars.