Anyone who’s waited in line at a Trader Joe’s knows that one of the grocery store’s major selling points is its breadth of good, cheap eats spanning cuisines from around the world. What you may also recall is that these spinoff brands under the Trader Joe’s banner like Trader Ming’s probably try a little too hard to indicate that what you’re buying is from a foreign culinary tradition.
Now, after a Change.org petition has gained steam, Trader Joe’s says it’s in the process of removing the sub-brand names associated with its various ethnic cuisines. Those include Trader Ming’s for Chinese foods, Trader Jose’s for Mexican eats, and Trader Giotto’s for Italian fare. Started by 17-year-old Briones Bedell, the petition, which the LA Times says has garnered more than 2,000 signatures as of July 20, says these names represent “a narrative of exoticicism that perpetuates harmful stereotypes.”
Trader Joe’s decision to do away with these names comes at a time of increased scrutiny for products with (sometimes rather overt) ties to racism. In June, the parent companies of both Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben announced they would rebrand amid increased scrutiny of these brands’ racist origins.
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Though none of these Trader Joe’s brands have their origins in Reconstruction-era minstrel shows, the company still admits that they’re outdated and unfit for the current moment.
“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,” company spokeswoman Kenya Friend-Daniel told the LA Times.
For now, Trader Joe’s says some of the offending packaging has already been changed, with more work on removing the labels to be completed “very soon.”
Given the way Trader Joe’s operates, getting rid of the questionable labeling is an easy choice. You can only buy those products in a Trader Joe’s anyway, so tacking on any kind of extra, offensive branding doesn’t really add much. Most importantly, I’d be willing to bet anyone who’d get mad enough about the switch to threaten some kind of boycott probably isn’t shopping at Trader Joe’s in the first place.
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