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Trader Joe's Is Retiring Certain Product Names With "Racist" Connotations – UPDATE

Updated:

After a July 19 petition circulated online critiquing Trader Joe's for what critics called "racist" connotations in the names of some of its products, it seemed that the company had responded in kind. At the time, it seemed Trader Joe's would retire "racist" product names and branding on a number of its international food items. The names, like "Arabian Joe," "Trader Ming's," "Trader José," and "Trader Giotto's," had been criticized amidst renewed racial unrest all throughout the country. Amid renewed discussion of the branding, the July 20 Trader Joe's announcement appeared to highlight that they company would be phasing out all the controversial packaging "very soon." (This post was updated on Aug. 4, after Trader Joe’s posted a packaging update on July 24.)

However, on Friday, July 24, Trader Joe’s seemingly reversed course on phasing out international product branding. In a post published on its website titled “A Note About Our Product Naming,” the chain responded directly to the July 19 petition, saying, “We want to be clear: we disagree that any of these labels are racist. We do not make decisions based on petitions,” adding customers had provided feedback indicating they’re happy with the existing labels on Trader Joes’ products, and that the company views them as an attempt to “have fun with marketing.”

Previous comments provided by Trader Joe's spokesperson and PR head Kenya Friend-Daniel on July 20 didn’t outright mention the petition. At the time, Friend-Daniel confirmed Trader Joe’s “decision several years ago to use only the Trader Joe's name on our products moving forward.” Additionally, Friend-Daniel shared the brand was in the process of phasing out the alternatively named international products. Elite Daily reached out to Trader Joe’s for clarification on its decision to keep the international names on packaging, but did not hear back at the time of publication.

Trader Joe's earlier comments on its branding came after a high school senior named Briones Bedell started a Change.org petition on July 19 demanding the grocery chain drop the names formed with a modification of the name "Joe." The petition, which had over 3,800 signatures at the time of publication on July 22, criticized the company for using stereotypical names to denote food items from its Chinese, Middle Eastern, Japanese, Mexican, and Italian lines.

“The Trader Joe’s branding is racist because it exoticizes other cultures," the petition reads. "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.'"

On July 20, Trader Joe's spokesperson and PR head Kenya Friend-Daniel told NPR that the company was planning to remove all of this packaging and had been for some time. (Elite Daily reached out to Trader Joe's for further comment on the decision, but did not hear back by the time of publication.) "We made the decision several years ago to use only the Trader Joe's name on our products moving forward," Friend-Daniel told the news outlet, adding that they "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."

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In July 2019, Nylon published an article calling out the chain for its Trader Ming line. At the time, Friend-Daniel told the publication the company had already decided to get rid of this offensive branding and hadn't rolled out any new products with it in two years. She said the company was currently working through changing the packaging for older products.

"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," she said at the time.

As of Aug. 4, Trader Joe's doesn’t appear to have plans to update packaging for its international product lines. Per the brand’s July 24 statement, Trader Joe’s will “make decisions based on what customers purchase, as well as the feedback we receive from our customers and Crew Members.” The company added, “If we feel there is need for change, we do not hesitate to take action.”

Despite Trader Joe’s assertion “those products that resonate with our customers and sell well will remain on our shelves,” it wouldn't be surprising if an update comes down the line as numerous brands like Aunt Jemima and Land O'Lakes have recently responded to critiques of racist imagery by swapping out their branding.

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