Trader Joe's says their ethnic food branding isn't racist, won't change a thing


Aug. 3 2020, Updated 11:54 a.m. ET

Black Lives Matter protests across the world have led to many major companies reconsidering their branding. Quaker Oats announced that they would be dropping their Aunt Jemima brand, Eskimo Pie ice cream is planning to rebrand, and the Washington Redskins temporarily rebranded themselves to the Washington Football Team.

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Trader Joe's has also drawn criticism for the branding of their ethnic food lines, which includes Trader José and Trader Ming's. Over 5,000 people signed a petition calling for the brand to remove "racist branding and packaging from its stores."

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The petition explains: 

"The grocery chain labels some of its ethnic foods with modifications of 'Joe' that belies 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."

In a statement last month, Trader Joe's said they were "in the process of updating older labels and replacing any variations with the name Trader Joe's," adding "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."

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"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," the statement read.

Unsurprisingly, many people took that to mean that Trader Joe's was ditching the brands in questions.

However, in a new statement, the company suggested that there "were inaccurate reports that the petition prompted us to take action."

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The statement went on to say that the company does not believe the brands in question are racist.

"We want to be clear: we disagree that any of these labels are racist. We do not make decisions based on petitions."

The statement continues: "Decades ago, our Buying Team started using product names, like Trader Giotto’s, Trader José’s, Trader Ming’s, etc. We thought then—and still do—that this naming of products could be fun and show appreciation for other cultures. For example, we named our Mexican beer 'Trader José Premium' and a couple guacamole products are called 'Avocado’s Number' in a kitschy reference to a mathematical theory.  These products have been really popular with our customers, including some budding mathematicians."

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"We constantly reevaluate what we are doing to ensure it makes sense for our business and aligns with customers’ expectations. A couple years ago we asked our Buying Team to review all our products to see if we needed to update any older packages, and also see if the associated brands developed years ago needed to be refreshed. We found that some of the older names or products just weren’t connecting or selling very well; so, they were discontinued. It’s kind of what we do."

Trader Joe's explained that any brands which resonate with their customers will remain on shelves.

"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. We continue our ongoing evaluation, and those products that resonate with our customers and sell well will remain on our shelves."

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"Trader Joe’s has been a unique, fun and neighborly place to shop for over 50 years. We look forward to taking care of our wonderful customers for many future decades."

Unsurprisingly, this most recent announcement has led to some mixed opinions on social media.

One user wrote: "I’m Hispanic and I thought Trader Jose’s & all the ones were cute. If anyone thinks Trader Joe’s is racist, they have never been there." 

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While another added: "Literally in what world are the Trader Joe's graphic designs not racist!!!"

What do you make of the decision?


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