More than 2,800 people have signed a petition demanding Trader Joe’s remove racist branding and packaging from its stores. The grocery chain labels some of its ethnic foods with modifications of “Joe” that belies a narrative of exoticism that perpetuates harmful stereotypes, according to the petition on Change.org. 

For example, “Trader Ming’s” is used to brand the chain’s Chinese food, “Arabian Joe” brands Middle Eastern foods, “Trader José” brands Mexican foods, “Trader Giotto’s” is for Italian food, and “Trader Joe San” brands their Japanese cuisine. Furthermore, the Trader Joe’s company takes pride in the fact that the founder, Joe Coulombe, took inspiration in building the Trader Joe’s brand from a racist book and a controversial theme park attraction, both of which have received criticism for romanticizing Western Imperialism and fetishizing non-Western peoples.

The labels, which offer variations of the grocery store’s name, exploit “a narrative of exoticism that perpetuates harmful stereotypes,” according to the petition. A California high school senior started it.

Trader Joe’s stores are located in Cathedral City, Palm Desert and La Quinta in the Coachella Valley.

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 – they are “Arabian Joe,” “Trader José,” and “Trader Joe San.”

The book, according to the petition, White Shadows in the South Seas is racist because it perpetuates the myth of the “white god” and the “noble savage” stereotypes. It becomes even more racist in context because the founder of Trader Joe’s said that he was inspired by this book in some way when creating his company, a book which shows traders’ exotification of non-Western peoples turned into violent exploitation and destruction. The Disney Jungle Cruise is racist because it displays caricatures of non-Western peoples alongside exotic animals, as an attraction at a theme park to be gawked at.

The grocery store chain, which first opened in Pasadena, California, in 1967, said it has already “been in the process of updating order labels, and replacing any variations with the name Trader Joe’s.”

“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 spokeswoman for Trader Joe’s, said in a statement, according to The Mercury News.

“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,” Friend-Daniel added.

The grocery store is the latest in a line of companies to rebrand its products following the widespread protests over racial inequality sparked by the death of George Floyd. 

Last month, Quaker Oats announced that it was retiring the 130-year-old Aunt Jemima brand and logo, acknowledging that it was based on a racial stereotype. Uncle Ben’s and Mrs. Butterworth’s quickly followed.

If interested, you may sign the petition by clicking here. 

Image Sources

  • Trader Joe”s: Facebook