The grocery store chain Trader Joe’s will actually not be rebranding its international food products amid accusations that they promote racist stereotypes.
Earlier this month, Trader Joe’s said that the ethnic names for its various products – Trader Giotto’s (Italian), Trader Ming’s (Chinese), Trader José (Mexican), and Trader Joe San (Japanese) – would be discontinued, asserting that such a decision had been in the works for several years.
“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,” a spokesperson for Trader Joe’s said at the time.
In an announcement on its website, Trader Joe’s has said that some ethnic brands will stay, stating that they were not in any way racist.
“A few weeks ago, an online petition was launched calling on us to ‘remove racist packaging from [our] products,'” the company said. “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.”
“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,” it continued. “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.”
Though Trader Joe’s did not say exactly which ethnically-branded products will remain, the company said they will be evaluated based on sales.
“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,” said the company. “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,” it continued. “We continue our ongoing evaluation, and those products that resonate with our customers and sell well will remain on our shelves.”
Earlier this month, a Change.org petition demanding that Trader Joe’s end its marketing of ethnically-branded products went viral. The petition argued that such brands “exoticize” other cultures and perpetuate colonialist stereotypes.
“The common thread between all of these transgressions is the perpetuation of exoticism, the goal of which is not to appreciate other cultures, but to further other and distance them from the perceived ‘normal,'” said the petition. “The current branding, given this essential context, then becomes even more trivializing and demeaning than before. What at first seems, at worst, insensitive, further is called into question.”
The carefully-crafted facade of your friendly neighborhood hipster grocery store belies a darker image; one that romanticizes imperialism, fetishizes native cultures, and casually misappropriates. https://t.co/rxR4nvflUU #TraderJoes
— Briones Bedell (@BrionesBedell) July 8, 2020
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