I’ve always liked Trader Joe’s. Quality products, good value, great staff, and a pleasant shopping experience — at least on weekdays when my local store isn’t too packed. Recently, a white California high schooler decided to be offended on behalf of other races and save them from product line names like “Trader José” and “Trader Ming’s.” She generated an online petition and received a couple thousand signatures. An embarrassing excerpt from her statement:
We demand that Trader Joe’s remove racist branding and packaging from its stores. 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. Furthermore, 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.
Several news outlets reported that TJ’s was knuckling under to the criticism and reconsidering the branding. You might want to sit down for this, but the media was wrong.
The company released a statement reassuring their loyal customers that no mass renaming will occur:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The cancel mob loses all its power when you simply refuse to be canceled.Published in