Trader Joe’s announced that it has been working on repackaging its international food products for “several years” after a widespread petition called out the grocery chain out for their “racist branding and packaging.”
A petition created earlier this month took aim at Trader Joe’s “ethnic foods” and noted that they belie “a narrative of exoticism that perpetuates harmful stereotypes.”
“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,” reads the petition. “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.’”
The petition also took issue with the chain’s founder, Joe Coulombe, taking “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.” The petition points to the chain’s website, which claims Coulombe was inspired by the book “White Shadows in the South Seas” and the Disneyland Jungle Trip ride.
Spokesperson Kenya Friend-Daniel told NPR on Monday that the brand “made the decision several years ago to use only the Trader Joe’s name on our products moving forward” and “had hoped that the work would be complete by now but there are still a small number of products going through the packaging change and we expect to be done very soon.”
Friend-Daniel also told the publication that repackaging had been in progress before the petition and was not in response to it.
She said the controversial approach to naming “may have been rooted in a lighthearted attempt at inclusiveness.” However, Friend-Daniel said, “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.”
In a statement to CBS News, the brand added: “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.”
While many of the offending product packaging has already been changed, according to the brand, Trader Joe’s also told the publication they plan to finish changing over all packaging “very soon.”
Trader Joe’s did not respond to HuffPost’s request for comment.
The chain is one of many who has been faced with reassessing their brand’s racist history and/or marketing. In the wake of the police killing of George Floyd and nationwide protests against racial inequality in America, brands like Aunt Jemima, Uncle Ben’s, Cream of Wheat, Mrs. Butterworth, and more have reevaluated their names, mascots and imagery to not perpetuate racism and stereotypes.
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