With certain brands like Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben’s being culturally rebranded during these changing times, Trader Joe’s will be making the same change to some of their products.
The American grocery store chain is known for high-quality products, but now they are drawing attention after realizing the severity of the playful naming for their ethnic food products. Some examples include “Trader Jose’s”, “Arabian Joe’s”, “Trader Joe San”, and “Trader Ming’s” which refers to their Hispanic, Middle Eastern, and Asian products.
A petition went around to have Trader Joe’s rename their products as it exhibits “a narrative of exoticism that perpetuates harmful stereotypes.”
“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…”, the petition states. “The common thread between all of these transgressions is the perpetuation of exoticism, the goal of which is not to appreciate other cultures, but to further other and distance them from the perceived ‘normal.'”
This is not the first time that the store chain has been called out for their products. In 2019, Emma Glubiak, who is a writer for the food blogging website “The Kitchn”, pointed out their use of the word “authentic” on the labels, using it mainly on their Hispanic and Asian products. On the other hand, European products were not being promoted as “authentic”, which meant that the word was being used in a different context when it’s used on their Indian or Hispanic products.
“By using the word ‘authentic’ to single out these two countries, TJ’s is reinforcing some subtle yet truly important assumptions,” said Glubiak. “What are those assumptions? To describe an entire nation’s food as either authentic or inauthentic is to reduce it to one singular conception of what that food can be while ignoring regional differences, class differences, and historical precedents.”
Viviane Eng, who is a writer for Nylon Magazine, also approached the same issue in 2019 with a similar article.
“Though intended to be innocuously whimsical, [the international labels] lend to a variety of interpretations, the first being that there’s something inherently comical about ethnic names: ‘Ming’ and ‘José’ are somehow witty and funny while ‘Joe’ is the unembellished neutral,” Eng wrote.
The grocery chain released a statement saying that they have decided to use only the Trader Joe’s name on their newly introduced products and that “these designations do not appear on any new products we have introduced in the past two years, and as we make our way through label updates on older products, we will change any preexisting variations to Trader Joe’s. While these names had been considered a lighthearted designation of their cuisine, we recognize they may have been inconsistent with the welcoming, rewarding customer experience we strive to create every day.”
“We have 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.”, said Kenya Friend-Daniel, who is the national director for public relations at Trader Joe’s.