In a Change.Org petition started by high Briones Bedell, who is a high school senior and human rights activist, critics are asking Trader Joe’s to retire product names that are “ethnic” twists on the Trader Joe’s name. This includes Mexican items that are labeled “Trader José,” Middle-Eastern foods that are labeled “Arabian Joe,” Japanese items that are labeled “Trader Joe San” and Chinese foods that are labeled “Trader Ming’s.”
“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 — they are ‘Arabian Joe,’ ‘Trader José,’ and ‘Trader Joe San,'” writes Bedell in her Change.org petition. “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.'”
New York Times columnist Paul Krugman tweeted his support of the teenager’s efforts, writing, “For a second I wondered if this was too much political correctness. But then I thought about how I’d feel if kosher foods were sold under the label “Trader Hymie’s.”
For a second I wondered if this was too much political correctness. But then I thought about how I'd feel if kosher foods were sold under the label "Trader Hymie's". The intent may have been innocent, but time to end this https://t.co/3w5lMF0zwe
— Paul Krugman (@paulkrugman) July 20, 2020
As of this writing, the Change.Org petition has received more than 4,000 signatures.
Trader Joe’s has responded to the petition by saying they were already working on retiring these names.
“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,” said the national director of public relations for Trader Joe’s, Kenya Friend-Daniel, in a public statement.
“With this in mind, we made the decision several years ago to use only the Trader Joe’s name on our products moving forward,” the Trader Joe’s rep continues. “Since then, 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.”