Trader Joe's is instituting changes in its line of international food products after an online petition called out the branding the grocery store chain was using as "racist." The petition, created by California high school senior Briones Bedell, said that some of the grocery chain's labeling "belies a narrative of exoticism that perpetuates harmful stereotypes," including the name for its Mexican products, "Trader José," its Middle Eastern products, "Arabian Joe," and for its Chinese products, "Trader Ming's."
"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, which garnered more than 2,500 signatures as of Monday morning, states. Sunday, the company acknowledged the naming of their products "may now have the opposite effect" of their original intent in a statement obtained by ABC News.
"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," Kenya Friend-Daniel, a spokesperson for Trader Joe's, said in a statement. "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."
Friend-Daniel added, "At this time, I don’t have an exact date but we expect to have the work completed very soon. Packaging for a number of the products has already been changed, but there’s a small number of products in which the packaging is still going through the process."
Bedell updated the petition Sunday after the company's statement, asking Trader Joe's to "commit to a date in which the packaging changes will be completed." She continued, "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."
Trader Joe's is not the only U.S. company making changes to its branding due to accusations of racial stereotyping. Quaker Oats announced in June it would no longer be using its Aunt Jemima brand and logo, acknowledging that its "origins are based on a racial stereotype." Food brands such as Mrs. Butterworth and Uncle Ben's also followed suit.