Trader Joe’s: Ethnic food brands are not racist, but names and packaging will change

The company says it has been labeling some of its ethnic foods with variations of “Joe” for decades.

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Shoppers line up to get into the the Trader Joe’s in Evanston, IL on Friday, March 20, 2020.

Trader Joe’s rebuffed reports that a small petition calling on the company to “removing racist packaging” was what prompted officials to take action.

Victor Hilitski/For the Sun-Times

While Trader Joe’s says it plans to change some of the names and packaging of several of its ethnic food brands, the grocer said it doesn’t believe the names are racist.

The company says it has been labeling some of its ethnic foods with variations of “Joe” for decades, including Trader Ming’s, which is used to brand the chain’s Chinese foods, Trader José’s for Mexican foods, “Arabian Joe” for Middle Eastern foods, “Trader Giotto’s” for Italian foods and “Trader Joe San” for Japanese cuisine.

Trader Joe’s rebuffed reports that a small petition calling on the company to “removing racist packaging” was what prompted officials to take action.

“We want to be clear: we disagree that any of these labels are racist,” the company said a new statement shared with USA TODAY on Tuesday. “We do not make decisions based on petitions. ... If we feel there is need for change, we do not hesitate to take action.”

The company told USA TODAY on July 18 that it ”made the decision several years ago to use only the Trader Joe’s name on our products moving forward,” but it didn’t have an exact date for when the change would happen. 

“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,” Trader Joe’s said a statement posted on its website on Friday. “We continue our ongoing evaluation, and those products that resonate with our customers and sell well will remain on our shelves.”

Briones Bedell, a high school senior from California, started the Trader Joe’s petition about three weeks ago after other brands including Aunt Jemima, Uncle Ben’s, Mrs. Butterworth’s and Cream of Wheat announced June 17 that they would overhaul their imaging in the wake of renewed calls for racial equality. Dreyer’s Grand Ice Cream said on June 19 that its Eskimo Pie brand would be renamed.

The petition had more than 4,800 signatures as of Tuesday night.

Trader Joe’s said officials constantly evaluate what they are doing to “ensure it makes sense for our business and aligns with customers’ expectations” and asked the buying team a couple years ago “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.” 

Some names and products that “weren’t connecting or selling very well; so, they were discontinued.”


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