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Trader Joe's to Change the Names of These Popular Items

The grocery chain is responding to criticism that its brand names for ethnic cuisines are insensitive.
Trader Joe's store front

Beloved national grocery chain Trader Joe's is phasing out some of their brand names long used for ethnic food products amid growing pressure that the names are "racist." Some of the labels that will be changed include Mexican foods packaged under the brand "Trader Jose's" and Chinese foods sold under "Trader Ming's."

The change comes after more than 1,400 people signed a Change.org petition launched by 17-year-old high school student Briones Bedell in California, who urged that Trader Joe's "remove racist branding and packaging from its stores."

The petition, which has received national media attention over the past few days, goes on to assert: "The grocery chain labels some of its ethnic foods with modifications of 'Joe' that belies a narrative of exoticism that perpetuates harmful stereotypes." It lists examples, like, "'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."

In a statement published by the New York Times, a corporate spokesperson for Trader Joe's revealed that the ethnocentric approach to product names was initially "rooted in a lighthearted attempt at inclusiveness," but acknowledged that "it may now have the opposite effect—one that is contrary to the welcoming, rewarding customer experience we strive to create every day."

The decision to remove these private-label brand names is not in response to the petition, however, according to Trader Joe's national director of public relations, Kenya Friend-Daniel, who told the NY Times, "We made the decision several years ago to use only the Trader Joe's name on our products moving forward… 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."

Trader Joe's origin story tells how and why the store initially opened with a nautical theme as "it was run by people who were described as 'traders on the high seas.'" The store's founder, Joe Coulombe, was inspired by a book he was reading called White Shadows in the South Seas, as well as a recent experience he had on Disneyland's Jungle Trip ride. "To this day, Trader Joe's Crew Members consider themselves 'traders on the culinary seas' and are known for their bright, tropical-patterned shirts and for generally being nice, helpful, and well informed," the story explains.

But now, Coulombe's approach is being called out by the Change.org petition as being inspired by "a racist book and a controversial theme park attraction, both of which have received criticism for romanticizing Western Imperialism and fetishizing non-Western peoples."

Friend-Daniel said Trader Joe's has "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."

The grocery store chain is the latest in a long line of food-related companies that have announced brand changes amid a national reckoning on race that followed the civil unrest that came from George Floyd's killing and the Black Live Matters protests that ensued.  Here is a list of the 10 Grocery Items You Will Never See Again as a result.