The company had previously said the names of international-themed products that were intended to promote inclusiveness, such as Trader JosÃ© and Trader Mingâs, âmay now have the opposite effect.â
Weeks after admitting that some of its international-themed product labels might have fallen short of an âattempt at inclusiveness,â the grocery store chain Trader Joeâs is rejecting criticism of the labels â some with names like Trader JosÃ© and Trader Mingâs â as racist.
After an online petition denounced the companyâs use of labels such as Arabian Joeâs, Trader Giottoâs and Trader Joe San as racist because it âexoticizes other cultures,â Trader Joeâs announced that it would keep names that it felt still resonated with customers.
âWe disagree that any of these labels are racist,â the company said in a statement on July 24. âWe do not make decisions based on petitions.â
âWe thought then â and still do â that this naming of products could be fun and show appreciation for other cultures,â it said.
Earlier in July, however, Kenya Friend-Daniel, the companyâs national director of public relations, said the company was in the process of updating labels to bear only the Trader Joeâs name.
âWhile 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 â one that is contrary to the welcoming, rewarding customer experience we strive to create every day,â the spokeswoman said in a statement on July 19. âWith this in mind, we made the decision several years ago to use only the Trader Joeâs name on our products moving forward.â
On Saturday, she said that she had been referring to new products that the company introduced after 2017, not products that existed before then.
âWe will continue to evaluate our products, as we always do, and if certain products/product packaging are not resonating well, changes will be made,â Ms. Friend-Daniel said.
Asked about the status of other product labels, Ms. Friend-Daniel said that âfor the remaining products, we will change packages or discontinue products that do not resonateâ with customers.
The spokeswoman added that labels such as Arabian Joeâs and Armenian Joeâs were no longer in use, and that the label Trader Joe San is currently used on only about three products.
Briones Bedell, who started the online petition that led to renewed scrutiny of the companyâs labels, said on Saturday she was âhonestly surprisedâ by the companyâs comments.
âI see it to be a complete reversal to their previous commitment to removing the labels from the international foods,â she said.
With her petition, Ms. Bedell, 17, said she wanted to raise awareness of stereotypes that are of a piece with the larger discussions about race happening across the country.
âThey rely only on characters and kind of vague ideas and not anything of actual substance or legitimacy,â Ms. Bedell said of the labels. âIt becomes a tool of othering.â
Recently, major food companies have committed to re-examining their use of racist imagery after nationwide protests over police brutality. Quaker Oats said in June it would retire the Aunt Jemima name and image. Mars Foods followed suit only hours later, saying it would âevolveâ the Uncle Benâs rice brand.
According to Paul Andrew Galvani, an adjunct professor of marketing at the University of Houston, Trader Joeâs most likely issued its recent defenses after consulting with customers who are part of its target market â a common practice for retail businesses.
âIf their consumers are suddenly up in arms and saying, âYou know what, weâre not going to shop Trader Joeâs unless you change,â then, like any sensible marketer, theyâre going to look at that and say, âWell, when it starts to impact our bottom line, thatâs when we may have to make a change,ââ Mr. Galvani said.
News – Trader Joeâs Defends Product Labels Criticized as Racist