In a statement posted on its website, Trader Joe's says it has no plans to drop product names such as Trader Ming's and Trader José.

By Betty Gold
Updated July 29, 2020
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This article has been updated to include Trader Joe's response to the petition.

Trader Joe's just issued the following response on its website to the Change.org petition urging the company to drop racially insensitive branding from products: "We want to be clear: we disagree that any of these labels are racist. We do not make decisions based on petitions."

The statement goes on to say that the naming of products such as Arabian Joe's, Trader José’s, and Trader Ming’s was intended to "be fun and show appreciation for other cultures."

"Recently we have heard from many customers reaffirming that these name variations are largely viewed in exactly the way they were intended­—as an attempt to have fun with our product marketing," the statement says. "We continue our ongoing evaluation, and those products that resonate with our customers and sell well will remain on our shelves."

July 20, 2020

For decades, Trader Joe's has amassed a cult following of grocery shoppers who feel they cannot live without the quirky packaged food products. This week, the branding on many of these products has been called into question, thanks to a Change.org petition demanding that the supermarket chain remove racist product labels from many of its items.

Briones Bedell, who started the petition, urges the company to follow in the footsteps of other national food companies—such as Aunt Jemima, Mrs. Butterworth, and Uncle Ben's—by dropping tone-deaf product names and branding that perpetuate racist stereotypes. "The grocery chain labels some of its ethnic foods with modifications of 'Joe' that belies a narrative of exoticism that perpetuates harmful stereotypes," Bedell says. "For example, 'Trader Ming’s' is used to brand the chain’s Chinese food, 'Arabian Joe' brands Middle Eastern foods, 'Trader José' brands Mexican foods, 'Trader Giotto’s' is for Italian food, and 'Trader Joe San' brands their Japanese cuisine."

She goes on to describe how Trader Joe's founder, Joe Coulombe, was inspired by both a controversial novel titled White Shadows in the South Seas and a theme park attraction, Disneyland's Jungle Cruise ride, to open his business. (The story is told in detail on TJ's website.) Each of these sources of inspiration has rightfully received criticism for romanticizing Western Imperialism and fetishizing non-Western people. "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—they are 'Arabian Joe,' 'Trader José,' and 'Trader Joe San,'" Bedell says.

The petition has already been signed by 2,500 people and the numbers are growing rapidly. A spokeswoman for Trader Joe’s, however, has already said in a statement that the company had decided to get rid of the names and to rebrand its international foods with the generic Trader Joe’s product labeling years ago. "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."

She doesn't state exactly when the changes to packaging will happen but indicates they will be available "very soon."

"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,” Friend-Daniel said.