Trader Joe’s acknowledged over the weekend that its approach to product naming, which resulted in ethnic foods being labeled with modifications of ‘Joe,’ such as ‘Trader Ming’s’ for the brand’s Chinese food, ‘Arabian Joe’ for its Middle Eastern foods and ‘Trader José’ for its Mexican foods, “may have been rooted in a lighthearted attempt at inclusiveness” but actually “may now have the opposite effect.”
As such, the retailer told SFGATE, that it decided “several years ago to use only the Trader Joe’s name on our products moving forward. Since then, we have been in the process of updating older labels and replacing any variations with the name Trader Joe’s, and we will continue to do so until we complete this important work.”
While the retailer said it expects to complete the transition “very soon,” that may not be soon enough for Briones Bedell, who started the petition earlier this month.
Responding to the company’s comment, which was not sent to Bedell but rather SFGATE, Bedell asked in an update to her petition that “Trader Joe’s commit to a date in which the packaging changes will be completed,” and “if a date cannot be established, we ask that Trader Joe’s immediately remove all products that the company recognizes have not been inclusive and have not cultivated a welcoming, rewarding customer experience.”
In her original petition, Bedell called out the retailer for branding that “exoticizes other cultures” by setting Joe “as the default ‘normal’ and the other characters falling outside of it.” She said that by perpetuating exoticism, the brands do not show appreciation for other cultures but rather further “distance them from the perceived ‘normal’” in a manner that is “trivializing and demeaning.”
In her update, she also pressed Trader Joe’s to clarify statements regarding the company’s corporate brand philosophy and the inspiration for the company, which according to Trader Joe’s website came from the founder’s reading of the book ‘White Shadows in the South Seas,’ which is about trading companies in the 1800s and 1900s that often exploited and enslaved those in the South Pacific.
The website goes on to attribute Trader Joe’s nautical theme in part to the founder’s experience with the Disneyland Jungle Trip ride, which Bedell also takes issue with for, she says, “misappropriating Indigenous culture and perpetuating stereotypes of native peoples as primitive and savage.”
Bedell asks again, in her update, “What about the White Shadows in the South Seas book and the Disney Jungle Cruise Ride … inspired the Trader Joe’s corporation?”
The petition’s call for action comes within weeks of several manufacturers announcing their intentions to remove or review iconic brands rooted in racial stereotypes. PepsiCo announced late last month it would phase out the Aunt Jemima brand in coming months, while Mars Inc. said it planned to “evolve the Uncle Ben’s brand,” and Conagra Brands committed to review Mrs. Butterworth’s.