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Trader Joe's Responded To Backlash For Their Branding Of Ethnic Foods And Said They Aren't Changing A Thing

"We thought then — and still do — that this naming of products could be fun and show appreciation for other cultures.”

Trader Joe's has recently come under fire for the product branding of its ethnic foods.

Trader Joe's store sign
Bill Tompkins / Getty Images

“Trader Ming’s," “Arabian Joe,” “Trader José,” “Trader Giotto’s,” and “Trader Joe San” have been used to label the chain’s Chinese, Middle Eastern, Mexican, Italian, and Japanese cuisine, respectively.

Over 5,000 people have signed a petition — started in early July by high school student Briones Bedell — asking Trader Joe's to "remove racist branding and packaging from its stores," stating that the labels belie "a narrative of exoticism that perpetuates harmful stereotypes."

Trader José beer
Joe Raedle / Getty Images

The request comes in the wake of the George Floyd protests and Black Lives Matter movement, which resulted in some food companies changing packaging that reflected racist stereotypes, such as Aunt Jemima pancake syrup and mix and Uncle Ben's rice.

Two weeks ago, a spokesperson for Trader Joe's said in a statement that the company was "in the process of updating older labels and replacing any variations with the name Trader Joe's," adding that "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."

However, in a new statement shared on the grocery's website, the company has clarified that not only is it not changing the labels, but it also doesn't think they're racist to begin with.

Johnny Louis / Getty Images

"To our valued customers," the statement began. " ... 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."

It continued: "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."

The statement continued: "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."

Chicago Tribune / Tribune News Service via Getty I

The company added that they "constantly reevaluate," "review," and "update" products that don't connect or sell well:

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," the statement concluded.

Rj Sangosti / Getty Images

You can read the full statement here.

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