Trader Joe's is doing away with store brand labels derided as racist and for perpetuating harmful stereotypes in an online petition.
The grocer said it had decided years ago to adopt the Trader Joe's banner on its entire lineup, instead of using ethnic-sounding variations depending on the cuisine. For example, it uses Trader Jose's on Mexican food products and Trader Ming's on Chinese fare.
But a Change.org petition apparently helped fast-track the process.
“The grocery chain labels some of its ethnic foods with modifications of ‘Joe’ that belies a narrative of exoticism that perpetuates harmful stereotypes,” wrote Briones Bedell, who launched the petition.
“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,” she said.
Bedell's petition, which has drawn more than 2,700 signatures, also criticized the use of "Arabian Joe" to brand Middle Eastern foods, "Trader Giotto's" for Italian goods, and "Trader Joe San" for Japanese cuisine.
Trader Joe’s said those names were intended to be playful, but acknowledged that they may have had the “opposite effect.” The removal of those labels is ongoing, the company said.
“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 said.
The grocer said it has changed the packaging on a number of products, and that it expects to complete the process "very soon," on the rest of the offending items, she said.
Trader Joe's is the latest brand to pivot away from marketing and naming conventions rooted in racial stereotypes.
Last month, the makers of Aunt Jemima said they would drop the brand's name and logo from its syrup and pancake mix by the end of 2020. The brand has been criticized for years for perpetuating and profiting from the "mammy" figure. But nationwide racial justice protests following the killing of George Floyd in police custody brought new urgency and attention to systemic racism in American life, including elements of consumer brands that perpetuate stereotypes.
The companies behind Cream of Wheat porridge, Uncle Ben’s Rice, and Mrs. Butterworth pancake syrups also have committed to reviewing and changing their product names and packaging, acknowledging that they relied on branding that evokes racist stereotypes of subservience.
And after two decades of resisting calls to change the name of the Washington football franchise, which is a slur against Native Americans, the NFL team announced it will retire the name, and is expected to choose a new one before the regular season begins in September.