The past few months have been a time of reckoning for brands built on racist imagery. Now, Trader Joe’s is being called out for some of its own questionable branding.
A petition is calling for Trader Joe’s to remove product packaging it critiques as racist, more specifically, any products that rely on a modification of the name “Joe” to indicate the product’s origin; ie., “Trader Ming’s” for the brand’s Chinese food, “Trader José” for Mexican products, and “Trader Giotto’s” for Italian products. The petition argues that structuring its products in such a way establishes “Joe” as the default and relies on ethnic stereotypes to place food of different origin outside that norm. Briones Bedell, a high school senior in the San Francisco Bay Area, started the petition two weeks ago. It has more than 2,700 signatures as of Monday afternoon.
The petition is part of a recent push to correct racial stereotypes in food product packaging. Land O’Lakes removed the Native American woman from its butter packaging earlier this year; in June, PepsiCo announced it will change the name and image of its Aunt Jemima brands. Meanwhile, Mars Food said it will “evolve” its Uncle Ben’s rice; ConAgra said it was conducting a review of Mrs. Butterworth’s branding; and B&G said it was reviewing its Cream of Wheat packaging.
Bedell’s petition also calls out Trader’ Joe’s branding origins as racist. According to the Trader Joe’s website, founder Joe Coulombe was inspired by the book White Shadows in the High Seas and the Disneyland Jungle Trip ride. Bedell writes that this book “perpetuates the myth of the ‘white god’ and the ‘noble savage’ stereotypes.” In using that as the inspiration for Trader Joe’s, she says it glorifies the exploitation and exoticization of other cultures.
In a statement to SFGate, Trader Joe’s says it decided to only use the Trader Joe’s name several years ago and has been phasing out these other variations. While it did not provide an exact date that this rebrand would be completed, it said it would be “very soon.”
In response to the company’s statement, Bedell asked that all packaging in question be removed from shelves in the interim, and that the company clarify its brand philosophy. Trader Joe’s did not respond to a request for comment.