Most of us associate Trader Joe’s with Hawaiian shirts, cheap wine, and tasty frozen dinners. However, for some shoppers, the company’s product packaging has been a sore point for years.
The quirky grocery chain prides itself on creative product names and cute packaging concepts. However, a Change.org petition led by a teenager has prompted Trader Joe’s to make some big changes.
The issue is the names used by Trader Joe’s for their ethnic food offerings. According to the petition started by 17-year-old Briones Bedell, these names promote “a narrative of exoticism that perpetuates harmful stereotypes.”
Those names include:
“The Trader Joe’s branding is racist because it exoticizes other cultures – it presents ‘Joe’ as the default ‘normal’ and the other characters falling outside of it,” the petition explains. At the time of writing, the petition has gained about 4,000 signatures.
Bedell also cites the sources that inspired Joe Coulombe to invent the quirky grocery retailer in the first place. The German entrepreneur drew on a recent trip to Disneyland, where he rode the “Jungle Trip” ride, as well as a book called White Shadows on the High Seas.
The stereotypes behind those works, according to Bedell, have lived on in the way that Trader Joe’s labels its foods from around the world.
Given the recent movement to examine the impact of product brands like Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben, as well as the soon-to-be-renamed Washington Redskins, it makes sense to push for this change, too.
Trader Joe’s is reportedly in the process of removing the branding from the “ethnic” foods. However, a spokesperson told NPR that this process has actually been happening for years.
“We made the decision several years ago to use only the Trader Joe’s name on our products moving forward,” Kenya Friend-Daniel told NPR journalist Merrit Kennedy. She claimed that the company “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.”
Friend-Daniel said the names “may have been rooted in a lighthearted attempt at inclusiveness. [W]e 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.”
Have you seen any of the names listed above at your local Trader Joe’s? The company is likely to phase those products out rather than issue a recall. There’s no specific date for when the process will be complete.